MARCH STORY: “Rubies for Romeo” by Jayne Barnard

Our March story is from our newest anthology, In the Spirit of 13, where we took “spirit” to mean the supernatural, the debunking of same or simply alcohol!

Jayne Barnard writes crime and suspense fiction in which women reclaim their power. She is the author of two acclaimed series: the award-winning Falls books featuring ex-Mountie, Lacey McCrae and the YA Steam Punk, Maddie Hatter adventures.

Sue’s husband, Steve, is directing a play set in an old mansion famed for an unsolved death and a jewel theft, Sue faces down strange lights, ghosts and a secretive psychic to unravel the century-old mystery of the missing necklace.


By J.E. Barnard

“Young Julia was found unconscious the next morning.” The tour guide pointed up the narrow back stairs. “Right there on that landing.”

I mouthed “tour group” to my husband, Steve. He backed the other end of our rolled canvas down the rear porch steps so I could step sideways, away from the half-open kitchen windows. The aged planks groaned under my feet. Had they heard? We weren’t supposed to start setting up until they’d all gone.

Someone inside asked, “Did she recover?”

“No. She never regained consciousness.” The guide began explaining early 20th-century cooking arrangements. But the next questioner wasn’t interested in the gleaming copper kitchen boiler, the pinnacle of household tech in prewar Penticton. Pre-Great War, that was.

“Was it murder?” he asked.

“Have you held a séance?” someone else called out. “Maybe she could tell you where the necklace is.” My arms were wobbling like wet linguini under the weight of the roll, but the others kept asking until the guide gave in, or up, and offered further details.

“Although her official cause of death was brain injury from falling down the stairs, gossip at the time was that her heart was broken before her head was, either from the necklace accusation or by a young man. Both theories are explored in the mystery play that starts tonight. See the poster in the gift shop. Now, if you’ll come this way. Carefully. The treads are steep, and there are no handholds on these stairs.”

“I bet she was a star-crossed lover,” a woman at the rear said.

“Imagine carrying cans of hot water up those stairs every morning,” another said. “In a long skirt, too. They should have run a pipe from the boiler up through the ceiling.”

As her voice receded up the narrow back stairs, I eased open the kitchen door. Empty. Whew.

“All clear,” I told Steve.

As another tour began its thudding descent of the main stairs, timed to keep it from colliding with the one going up the back stairs, we scuttled through the restored kitchen, along the butler’s pantry with its glass-fronted cupboards, and into the dark-paneled main hall. I angled my end to line us up with the library’s double doors.

Steve whispered, “Stop.”

“No,” I hissed back. “They’ll catch us in—”

The library doors’ ornate handles dug into my back. Smothering a yelp, I gripped the roll awkwardly with one arm while the other groped behind me for a handle. I barely got it turned before the first tourists’ feet appeared through the mahogany stair railing above Steve’s head. He shoved the roll end, and me, out of the hall. I stumbled backward, caught my heel on the carpet, and staggered sideways to collapse into an upholstered armchair. Steve one-handed his end and softly shut the library door.

“Oh, it’s only you,” a woman’s voice said.

This time, I yelped.

Clapping my hand over my mouth, I lifted my head. The woman who played the medium in my séance scene was peering from the servants’ passage in the back corner.

“Thalia?” Steve lowered the roll to the floor. “You’re here early.”

I sniffed. “And what’s that smell?”

“Incense.” She stepped into the room, trailed by a teen heartthrob in the old movie-idol mold, with full pouting lips, eyelashes fit for a mascara commercial, and dark soft curls brushed off his tanned forehead. “Tib, meet Steve, our director. This is Sue, who plays Mrs. Gander opposite me and Angie. My nephew here is Mercutio in the high school play.”

The boy smirked. “In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.

Steve said, “From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” As the youth gaped, he went on, “And speaking of unclean—incense? Do I even want to know?”

“My method,” Thalia said loftily. “Don’t worry. We hid in that back passageway while the tour group was in here. They didn’t see us.”

“Sneak out the way you came,” Steve ordered. “Unless you both want to help haul props up from the outside cellar.”

“Tib can,” Thalia said, and pointed. The boy followed Steve into the narrow passage. Their footsteps faded along behind the library wall toward the kitchen.

“Incense, huh?” I asked Thalia as I fanned my overheated face. “Some tourist just suggested a séance. Want to ask the ghosts about the lost necklace?”

“Shh,” she said, and cocked a finger toward the hallway doors.

“This is the Italian countess, who owned the necklace.” It was Maureen, the historic house’s manager, talking. Having taken the tour when our community theater was writing our mystery play, I knew they wouldn’t come in here. They’d done the library before the kitchen.

She went on, “It held five rubies: the main one, a large pendant surrounded by tiny diamonds, bracketed by filigreed golden wings, each anchored by a smaller ruby, and ending in a ruby chip.”

“This what the old lady’s wearing?”

“She had a similar sapphire set.” Maureen’s voice corralled their attention again. “There’s a very old photo of the rubies in the gift shop. The countess and her nephew, this house’s first owner, both died in the Great Flu of 1918. Most of the family’s wealth vanished in the Crash of ’29. Although the descendants searched the place many times before they were forced to sell in 1940, the ruby necklace was never found.”

“Are any of them folks still around?” someone asked.

“Some descendants still live in the valley,” Maureen said. “If you dare visit after dark, there’s a mystery play starting tonight. Great prizes for those who guess the correct solution to the necklace’s disappearance. Tickets are available in the gift shop. So are necklaces like the missing one. Not real rubies, naturally.”

She led them toward the gift shop, in what used to be a visitors’ parlor by the front door. I slipped out of the library behind them and settled onto a bench to rest my feet. That canvas roll and five others had to be hung in the play’s rooms in the next three hours to hide smoke detectors, fire exits and other modern fittings. The special effects equipment had to be set up, plugged in, and tested before showtime. I wanted supper, too.

I wasn’t scheduled to play the part of Mother Gander tonight, so I’d be at my watercolor portrait class, working on my picture of a young girl’s face, with chestnut hair rolled back from her forehead and the collar of her lacy blouse rising almost to her chin. It was my most complicated portrait ever, and I was determined it would turn out well enough to hang here.

Two senior visitors left the gift shop with the pretty pink bags used for jewelry purchases. As they loitered for a last look at the framed photographs, one said, “I bet the girl stole them for some man, and then he ran out on her. She probably threw herself down the stairs. Especially if he’d seduced her. It would be beyond shameful for a girl of that era.”

The other tapped a picture frame. “At that age, they’re so into the dramatics. You know the actress who played Juliet in the Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet was only 13? Perfect casting, but ick.”

“It seemed so romantic when we watched it for high school English,” her companion said. “And not a single teacher pointed out it was a tragedy, not a great love story to be emulated. Can’t you just see this place when they lived here, though?” She sighed.

The tour group trickled in pairs and trios out the front door, letting in wafts of sun-warmed air and the crispy scent of dried leaves from the 100-year-old elms around the property. When the last visitor was gone, Maureen scooped a wayward golden cluster from the floor and plopped onto the bench beside me, twirling the leaves between her hands.

“Sorry we ran long. The ladies always moon over a past that was a lot more romantic and sanitary than the reality. And a young man asked about the necklace dozens of times. I hope he doesn’t sneak back here to hunt for it. We don’t need anybody else getting stuck in the old ductwork.”

“There’s open ductwork?” Mike, our stage manager, entered from the kitchen with a plastic bin in his brawny arms. “Hazards like that should have been closed off before any tourists were allowed.”

He probably pictured a hole in the floor big enough for someone to fall through, but I knew what Maureen meant. The old cold-air return holes in all the rooms were rectangular openings in the corners, a bit larger than a human foot and covered in sturdy brass grillwork.

“They’re all screwed down good now,” Maureen told him. “This was three seasons back, when the house was mostly unrestored. Two young teens decided to hide here after their tour and spend the night hunting for the necklace. I don’t know why their parents didn’t realize they weren’t there at supper time, but 911 got a call near midnight that one of them was stuck. They’d pried up a cold-air grate in a bedroom floor. One of them was feeling around between the floorboards when his shoulder got wedged.” She yawned and shook out her shoulders. “That’s why we count noses after every tour now. I’ll start my shutdown rounds while Karen’s finishing her group. Your volunteers will make sure nobody’s left in here tonight, right?”


We got the backdrops set up in almost record time. Mike mounted his lighting and special effects equipment in the main floor servants’ passages and on timers in the upstairs closets. Costumes and makeup tables were set up in an unrestored back bedroom. I escaped as far as the front porch, wishing “break a leg” to the arriving actors, before Steve caught up with me.

“Wait! I need you for Mother Gander tonight.”

“It’s Elaine’s turn. I’m going painting.”

“She had to take her mom to the hospital in Kelowna.”

Who could argue with the medical needs of elderly mothers?

The way the play was set up, adults from the community theater troupe held down some roles, and the rest were high school students doing it for Drama credits. Most parts were double cast to work around everyone’s schedules. Since each playlet took place in a different room, I hardly saw any of the cast beyond my own trio. Thalia had insisted on being the only mystic, so she was on every night and matinee. Elaine and I alternated in the role of Mrs. Gander, and our daughter was played alternately by students[m1] , Angie and Marnie. We’d both rehearsed with each girl, so my taking Elaine’s place tonight wasn’t a stretch, except that Angie, Daughter One, was in a terminal sulk over not getting to play Juliet in the school’s production. She’d mentioned at every rehearsal that her boyfriend was stuck playing Benvolio, although he’d auditioned for Mercutio. Daughter Two, Marnie, was a volleyball jockette taking Drama 20 for an easy credit. She did her part cheerfully with no unnecessary dramatics. There was an understudy for both girls, but I’d only met her once and wouldn’t know her if I saw her on the street. I’d take her over Angie any day, though. She couldn’t possibly be any more annoying.


Two hours later, I settled my floral straw bonnet atop my curly gray wig and skewered it with a hatpin. At the other makeup table, Angie was painting herself a smoky eye more worthy of an Instagram star than of a sheltered Edwardian girl. After checking that my fan and spectacles were in their proper pockets, I left her to it. When I saw her next, outside the library, she was bidding her bland, sandy-haired boyfriend a Juliet-worthy farewell, as if they faced months of exile rather than two hours on a Tuesday evening. I coughed loudly to announce my presence. The pasty-faced Romeo—er, Benvolio—slouched away toward the kitchen exit. At least, I hoped he was exiting. We didn’t need random boys roaming the halls during the performance.

Peering through the library’s wide-open double doors, Angie shuddered. “Major creep factor in here. Cold and…weird.”

“The draft is from those ill-fitting old windows,” I said. “The painted backdrop cuts off most of it.”

“I don’t like it, “she said, then shrieked as Thalia loomed around the back edge of the backdrop. She was in full mystical face paint and wore a headscarf shimmering with fake coins. Her nephew, Tib, followed her in, sniggering. Angie glared.

“Goodbye, Tib.” I pointed emphatically toward the kitchen exit.

He bit his thumb in my general direction and swaggered off.

Angie muttered, “He only got that part because everybody wants to kill him.” By which I deduced her boyfriend had lost the role to unquestionably handsome Tib.

As Thalia checked her tarot card deck at the black-draped round table, Angie and I moved a long, narrow console table across the doorway to keep the audience back. Then we shuffled to our assigned seats. A faint aroma of incense added to the mystique.

From behind the canvas backdrop, Mike, our props man, said, “Try not to cough. I’m testing the ghostly luminescence. On three.”

Pale vapor filled the space in front of the fireplace. Concealed light from somewhere behind me floated over it, projecting the figure of an adolescent girl in a long, white dress quite like Angie’s costume. Angie shuddered.

“Feel that? That’s not just a leaky window.”

“Save the dramatics for the paying audience,” Thalia snapped.

Oh yes, a fun night ahead.


The metaphorical curtain went up with a rush of cool night air from the front door. We heard the first audience group crowding around the main parlor archway. The actors’ voices rose above the shuffling of feet. The show was on.

Ten minutes later, our little séance held its audience rapt for the allotted seven minutes, and then that group moved on to watch a dining room scene. Three scenes on the main floor, three more upstairs.

Groups would rotate through all evening to watch the six playlets, and then leave their filled-in solution cards in the box on the front porch. To prevent an early winner returning to win over and over, the play had four potential solutions, only one of which was correct on any given night. Even I didn’t know the order Steve had set via dice rolls, only that a few actors would change one or two of their lines slightly to reflect that night’s solution.

Our first few séances went off without a hitch. Angie said her lines clearly. Thalia’s bangles jangled as she commanded the ghost to come forth. The fireplace ghost wavered into view on cue.

Things didn’t go so well upstairs, though. Thumps and bumps echoed down the brass ceiling grate. Between our third and fourth séances, Mike leaned from behind the screen to hand me a small black box.

“Here,” he said. “Take the ghost. I’ve gotta sort them out upstairs.”

On the very next run, while I was concentrating on my trigger finger, Angie went off script. She raised one white-clad arm and pointed a shaking finger, not at the fireplace but at a corner bookshelf the audience couldn’t see from the hallway.

“Aaaaahhh,” she quavered, instead of saying her line.

The viewers, naturally, all leaned in to look where she pointed. The barrier table wobbled.

“What’s that?” Angie shrieked.

The table tipped into the room with a resounding crash.

Thalia declaimed, “Beware. The spirit stirs among us. Don’t move or speak.” She kicked me under the table drapery. I clicked the proper ghost into being.

As soon the group moved on, Angie stood up. “That was not funny.”

“What are you talking about?” Thalia snapped.

“Didn’t you see?” Angie’s voice rose. “That girl’s face! It came right through the bookshelf. I don’t know how Tib did it, but he’s sabotaging me.”

“He wouldn’t,” Thalia snarled. “Now behave, or I won’t sign your class attendance sheet.”

Angie sat down in a surly huff, leaving me and Thalia to reset the table by the door. We got back to our chairs just as our next group arrived. This time, Angie spoke her lines to her clenched hands. I took to repeating them facing the door, since the audiences had to hear everything to have a fair shot at solving the crime. Thalia’s glare ratcheted up so much I half expected wisps of smoke to curl up from Angie’s wig.

Mike sneaked back in time for our final performance. When it ended, I shut the library door and turned on the overhead light. “What was all that noise upstairs?” I demanded.

“Teenage boys,” he growled. “Each accusing each other of sneaking around to hunt for that damned necklace.”

“Not Tib,” Thalia said. “He knows better.”

Mike gave her a look that could sour cream. “He needs a reminder. Your boyfriend, too, Angie. I’ll be having a word with your drama teacher about this.” She flounced into the passage without answering. “What’s worse,” he said, rolling up a cable with unnecessary vigor, “one or both had been into the linen closet. Some plugs were kicked loose from my timing board. They both denied it, of course. When I ran them out the kitchen door, there was another one peering from the bushes by the steps. Likely waiting to sneak in. We’ll have to check every possible hiding place before we lock up tonight.”

“I’ll have a word with Tib,” Thalia promised, and peered out the hallway door before slipping away to change her costume.


On the way home, Steve tallied up all the first-night problems. “Props misplaced, timed effects off,” he grumbled as we turned up the long, dark road leading to our mountainside B and B. “The cord for the dining room lighting effects got looped around the backdrop’s right leg and nearly pulled it down. Upstairs, a sound-effects box blew a fuse, and the ghostly moan sounded like a fart cushion. That audience was laughing uproariously. The nursery maid forgot her lines and started crying, which I guess was fine since she’d already been accused of necklace theft. Doug had to replay the whole scene by himself.”

“Doug saves the day,” I muttered. “He must have been thrilled. And about those rumbling Romeos?”

These hot days is the mad blood stirring,” he muttered, which I took to mean he hadn’t decided yet.


That was Tuesday, opening night. On Wednesday Steve and Mike double-checked every cord placement and taped a bunch more stuff down so it couldn’t move. Except it did. Three rooms lost either sound effects or lighting despite all the extra tape. Mike left me the ghost’s remote control and went around troubleshooting all night.

Marnie played my daughter, and if she slouched in a most unhistorical way, at least she spoke her lines clearly and was untroubled by misplaced ghostly faces.

I, on the other hand, tensely anticipating equipment failures, almost convinced myself a girl’s face shimmered briefly into view in the corner Angie had pointed to. After the house lights came up, I had a good look at those corner bookshelves from my chair, and then from Angie’s. At shoulder height from the floor was a glass-fronted section, now slightly ajar and reflecting the room behind us. Anyone who peered around the backdrop in that opposite corner might appear as a ghostly face, right there. I shoved the little glass door properly shut, wondering exactly who had been back there when Mike wasn’t. Had someone been creeping around to all the rooms, sabotaging stuff?

“We need to make sure before showtime that there’s nobody in this house who shouldn’t be here,” I told Steve that night. “And all the doors, except the front one, ought to be locked.”

“They’re supposed to be.” He frowned. “If it’s high school kids messing around their classmates, we’ll catch them tomorrow.”

His optimism was unwarranted. Our third night was worse, beginning with the news that somebody had strewn props in an upstairs bedroom and unscrewed a duct grating. Maureen waved her phone with its photo evidence and waived all blame for the mess we’d find where she and her docent had shoved everything into the closet between their first and second school tours that morning.

“We had to give our spiel about the great-aunt and her lost necklace in the upstairs hallway. We said construction was going on in there. Please, keep your crap together.”

While Mike and Steve untangled cables and figured out if anything vital was missing, I helped the props assistant check other rooms. A dozen props had been knocked off tables or fallen behind chair cushions, seemingly at random. As we gathered for a quick bite before the actors arrived, we agreed to stow all the props and equipment in the one lockable attic room between shows. Nobody could tamper with it there.

Then Angie was late, hurrying into the library moments before curtain, still tucking her ashen hair under her long chestnut wig. I told her bland boyfriend to scram, but it was too close to curtain to make sure he went. Instead, he hovered in the hall giving Angie a thumbs-up over the audience’s heads and texting her between groups. Eventually, a paying guest told him to quit fooling around. Before the next group got there, I told him to get lost and, if he valued his life, he’d better watch where he put his big feet, since any loose cables would be blamed on him.

Too bad the script didn’t call for a full-blown adolescent sulk. Angie could’ve won an Oscar.

Thalia helped me box up our props for the trip to the attic. “You realize Angie and her boyfriend were poking around in the cellar, right? That’s why she wasn’t ready.”

Steve would have had a pithy quote about flighty girls. I just groaned.


The start of Friday night’s show fell apart when Marnie tripped on the hem of her costume and kissed the linen closet’s oak doorframe. I gave her immediate first aid, but she’d bled down her white muslin front and knocked a molar loose. Her mother hurried her off to the Urgent Care Center. Angie, called in at the last minute, showed up with her sneaky Benvolio in tow. Thalia gave him a glare worthy of a Macbeth witch.

“You! Sit in the hall where I can see you, and keep your mouth shut. One more bit of trouble, and I’ll be talking to your drama teacher, as well as your parents.”

All went smoothly for séance after séance. No bumps and crashes from elsewhere disrupted any performances. The bugs seemed to have finally been shaken out of the production. Or so I thought, until Angie leaped to her feet and screamed, “She’s back!”

She staggered toward the gawking audience. As her mother, I grabbed her around the shoulders and all but wrestled her back to her chair.

“Darling,” I improvised, “you know we’re not supposed to move or speak. Pray hush, so we can hear what the ghost has to tell us!”

While I fumbled in my chair cushions for my dropped remote, Thalia repeated her ghostly exhortations with ever-increasing menace. At last I found the device and thumbed the switch. The smoke swirled up, the ghost wavered into being, and for an instant I saw a second girl superimposed on the projection. Angie gave a strangled gasp and clamped her mouth shut, leaving me and Thalia to improvise to the end.

When the audience had moved on, Angie said flatly, “I’m not doing this anymore.”

She was gone before I could open my mouth.

I looked at Thalia. “Too late to call in the understudy. We’ve got six minutes to split up her lines before the next group arrives.”

A voice behind me said timidly, “I know the lines.”

Peeking around the backdrop was another teenager, already wearing a long muslin dress that looked even more authentic than Angie’s. Her gleaming chestnut hair, or wig, was rolled back from her face and tied with a huge bow. It was a lovely early 1900s style I could use for my portrait, if I ever got back to it.

“I know all the lines,” she repeated. “I’ve been listening every night.”

Had hers been the reflection Angie and I had both seen? Maybe she had been trying to sabotage Angie’s performance for exactly this chance, but there wasn’t time to interrogate her. The next group would be coming along from the parlor any minute now.

Thalia looked at her watch. “Four minutes. Take your seat, kid. If you dry—can’t remember the next line—just raise one hand to that cross you’re wearing, and I’ll cover for you.”

The understudy didn’t dry. She was calmer than Angie, more emotive than Marnie. When the last audience group passed, I closed the hallway doors and turned to ask her why she hadn’t got the principal role. Only the wavering backdrop showed she had been there at all. As we packed up our props, I said to Thalia, “If you won’t sign her drama class paper, I will. She’s a natural.”


Angie didn’t show up for her Saturday night performance, but the understudy was there on time, costumed and line-perfect again. Since it was a weekend, she could have stayed for the debriefing and pizza party, but she vanished the moment the last group left our doorway. I asked the teen playing the nursery maid for her name. She looked at me blankly over her double-pepperoni slice.

“I’m Angie’s understudy.”

“Then who was…?”

She took a bite instead of answering. I asked some other kids, but they didn’t recognize my description, either. For all I knew, the girl’s daytime guise involved purple hair, raccoon eyes, and 27 earrings.


Marnie was back for the Sunday matinee, her swollen lip not too visible under the makeup. She gamely ran her lines, and I made a point of congratulating her at the end of the afternoon.

“By Tuesday night, you should be fighting fit again. Are you taking over Angie’s shows all week, or will the understudy?”

She shrugged. “I’ll find out in drama class tomorrow.”

The students helped pack up the props, but even so it was near dark before Steve and I swept the house for stragglers and locked the kitchen door behind us. He was loading the last boxes into our truck when I realized my phone still sat upstairs on my makeup table. Taking the key from Steve’s jacket, I hurried toward the house.

The lone bulb over the back door suddenly seemed very dim, and every faint scratch of a leaf echoed in the deepening night. It almost seemed as if there were voices inside, too. I told myself firmly to stop imagining things and get in there.

Unlocking the back door, I sped across the kitchen by the Exit sign’s glow and tugged the light string above the steep back stairs. Before the bare bulb stopped swaying, I went up two steps at a time while the house pinged and creaked around me. I’d barely collected my phone when I distinctly heard a voice. It echoed faintly, like it came from a far-off room. I leaned back into the dressing room and listened. Sure enough, it was coming up through the cold air return’s grille.

“I can’t reach,” said a voice I knew well. “Boost me higher.”

Texting Steve to meet me at the back door, I crept down the main stairs. A quick glance into the dining room showed nobody. The gift shop was locked up tight. Parlor? Nobody there, either. I peered into the library, but it, too, was empty. Using my phone flashlight, I checked the servants’ passage and butler’s pantry. Not a soul.

The voices came again…beneath my feet.

Opening the back door, I whispered to Steve, “Somebody’s in the cellar.”

We hurried across the dying grass to the sloping doors that opened to the cellar. Each taking a handle, we threw open the doors and flashed our phone lights down the wide steps.

“Thalia,” I called. “We know you’re down there. Come up right now.”

The silence stretched.

I added, “Is that Tib I heard helping you?”

A diffuse circle of light bobbed across the old cement floor. Thalia and her nephew came into view, his shoulders hunched and hers defiantly back.

She glared up at us. “We have as much right to be here as anybody.”

“Yeah.” Tib’s movie-idol lips curled. “We’re descendants of the guy who built it.”

“His kids sold it 80 years ago,” Steve said. “You’ve no right to be trespassing.”

“You’re searching for the necklace, right?” I asked.

Thalia switched her angry gaze to me. “He paid that countess for it. If anybody deserves it now, it’s us.”

I glared back. “So, in the library that day, the incense was a cover story?”

Tib started to speak, but Thalia elbowed him in the ribs. “And why not? We weren’t disturbing the tour.”

“You were both trespassing.” Steve gave them an over-the-glasses look that had terrorized generations of students. “You especially, Tib. Do you want to end your high school career with a police record? Get up here.”

“There’s no performance for almost 48 hours,” I said as the two of them reached the lawn. “That’s plenty of time for you to think about how the cast will feel about you both using the play as a cover for this quest.”

Thalia’s arrogance deflated slightly. “Do you have to tell them?”

Steve and I exchanged glances. Neither of us really wanted to break in another medium. He turned the steely eyeball onto Thalia again.

“I haven’t decided yet. If there’s any more trouble, you can be sure I will. And before you get the bright idea of coming back after we’re gone, I’ll be telling the cops we ran off an intruder tonight. They’ll drive by several times a night from now on.”

As they slunk off down the alley, Steve muttered, “I want an extra padlock on this door. Can you wait for supper a while longer?”

“Where will you get a padlock and hasp at this time on a Sunday?”

Mike arrived with one in under 15 minutes. He’d also brought a squealer alarm: two little plastic boxes sticking together with magnetic strips. He screwed one box to the underside of each door, at the upper middle corner. When the doors were shut, the magnets held each other, but when either door opened the magnets split, sending out a high-pitched squeal. Someone’s dog barked, and the people across the alley opened their patio doors to investigate.

“Fire department,” Mike called out. “Security check on the mansion.”

By then, it was nearly 8 p.m., and we faced a half-hour drive home. So we turned the other way, and bought pizza to eat in the car. As I was shoving the first bite into my mouth, Steve turned back toward the mansion.

“Just to be sure they didn’t sneak back,” he said.

“Did I remember to tell you Thalia said Angie and her boyfriend were searching in the cellar? I wonder if that’s what gave her the idea.”

Civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” Steve groped toward the pizza box. “If I’d known half the cast would be questing for hidden treasure, I wouldn’t have suggested performing here.”

The old mansion seemed just as we’d left it, shrouded by bare elm branches against a moonless sky. We idled along the alley and across the front without seeing anything move but wind-tossed bushes. As Steve put his foot on the gas, I took a final look over my shoulder and nearly choked on my pizza. Was that a white dress glimmering in an upstairs window?

Only a curtain, catching a streetlight’s glow. Or so I told myself. If anybody had snuck back inside, the neighbor’s dog would’ve been barking.

I decided against mentioning it to Steve, but I called Maureen as soon as we were home.

She groaned.

“Second window from the chimney on the library side?”


“You wouldn’t believe the number of calls I’ve had about this over the years. I used to go check it out, but there was never anyone. It’s gotta be the lights of a car coming down the hill. They hit the upper windows for a few seconds when there’s no leaves left on the trees. That’s all it is—a reflection.”

“If you say so.”

But that night, I lay awake thinking of a lonely orphan, unwanted in her rich relatives’ house. Berated, accused of theft, possibly beaten. Maybe even pushed down those steep back stairs.

If I told Steve this, he’d only say I was taking my role way too seriously. So I didn’t.


No play Monday. The house was closed all day. That night, I went back to my painting class. As I stared at my easel, I realized the orphan I’d imagined last night was the face on my canvas. Interesting that she resembled the talented understudy. Working from memory, I deepened her eyes, darkened her eyebrows, and toned down her lips. The poufs of hair rolled back from her forehead got puffed up more, and I brightened them with golden highlights, as if she was in a gaslit library.

The instructor looked over my shoulder part way through. “That’s got real life now. And that wistful expression. Well done.”

It was raining when I left, a steady autumn drizzle that soaked my coat through at the shoulders. I drove toward the mansion, even though it wasn’t on my direct route home, and pulled up where I could see the upper window again. If car headlights on the hill hit it, my half doubt would be laid to rest.

Nothing showed at the window, or in the yard. If Angie, Thalia, or their respective sidekicks were sneaking around, I’d call the cops on them. Angie was effectively replaced already, and Thalia could be. With sufficient black eyeliner and draperies, Steve could summon the spirits for the final five performances.

The rain gave a few last spits and quit. I started to feel silly. Starting up the car, I turned into the alley for a final sweep along the back before leaving. My headlights struck a young man peering in the kitchen window. I had barely time to register that he wasn’t dressed normally before he leaped down the steps and vanished. I was halfway out of my car before it struck me that chasing an unknown male in the darkness was a bad idea. I ducked back in, locked my doors, and called the cops and Maureen. Then I drove out to the street and parked under a streetlight, where nobody could sneak up on me unseen.

Maureen reached me before the cops did. We sat together in my front seat while the two constables searched around the place. One cop eventually went back to her vehicle; the other came to us.

“No wet footprints on the back porch or steps,” he said. “No doors or windows tampered with. Are you sure you saw somebody?”

“Absolutely. He jumped down the back steps and took off running. I thought he went into those bushes by the coach house. But I guess you looked there?”

The constable nodded. “He’d be halfway down the alley before you got your phone out. Can you tell us what he looked like? What he wore?”

I closed my eyes, recapturing the image. “His head came up to the middle lattice on the window, so he’s a bit taller than me. Baggy pants, maybe brown? Whitish shirt. I almost couldn’t see his shoulders against the house wall.” My eyes popped open. “Suspenders! Nobody wears suspenders these days. Well, except really old men. And this one moved way too fast to be old.”

The cop leaned in my window. I thought he sniffed slightly. Did he suspect I’d been drinking? Smoking dope?

“I did see somebody,” I snapped. “Maureen can confirm we’ve had trouble with teenagers.”

“Well, there’s nobody here now,” he said. “We’ll keep an eye on the place. You go along home.”

And that was that.


Tuesday night’s performance went well enough, given that Thalia didn’t say two words to me outside the script. As a buffer we had Marnie. Afterward, when I was stacking props into the box by myself, I felt a cold draft. The screen wavered in the corner, but nobody came in. I turned back to the box, and clutched at my throat in reflexive astonishment.

“Where did you come from?” I asked the understudy.

“I’ve been around all evening,” she said, standing by the fireplace. “In case I was needed.”

Oh, great. Another teenager snooping around. If she wasn’t the best actor of her class, I’d tell her off. But the overhead light struck golden sparks from her chestnut wig, and I got briefly distracted by wondering if she’d let me take her photo to help with my portrait.

“That’s very nice of you to want to help.” I put the last props into the box. “Do you have anybody waiting for you? I saw a young man hanging around the back porch, peering in the kitchen window.”

Her hand went to her lips. “Was he wearing a brown tweed cap?”

I thought back. “Actually, he was. I was sidetracked by the suspenders. I take it you know him?”

Her face glowed. “I didn’t think he’d come back.”

“He’s been here twice that I know of. Do you need a ride home? We can drop you off on the way.”

“I’ll be fine.” She turned away and checked her hair in the mirror over the fireplace. She even pinched her cheeks in the time-honored way of getting color without blush.

“I would ask you to carry this box up to the attic,” I said, smiling at her sudden glow, “but you might trip in your long skirt on those stairs. You’d better hurry and get changed before we end up locking you in.”

She looked down at her dress. “I always wear this.”

Steve hollered from the downstairs hall. I picked up the box, shivered as another cold draft rattled the backdrop, and realized she was gone again. I made Steve and Mike double-check closets from the attic down to the outside cellar door, but they didn’t find her. She must have hurried out to meet her suspendered admirer. Maybe they role-played Edwardians outside school. That would explain why she seemed comfortable in her long muslin dress.


It was Marnie the next night, and no understudy. No problems, either. We hadn’t sold enough tickets to fill the last two group slots, but Steve assured the cast that wasn’t unexpected for midweek in a small town during the shoulder season. We’d surely have a full house again on the weekend.

It wasn’t much after nine when we let the last teens out the front door and killed the front porch lights. The rest of us separated to pack up the props and change clothes, while Steve and Mike started their closet checks. Then the squealer alarm shrilled through the night. In mixed costume and street clothing, we all raced down to the kitchen to peer outside.

By the dim bulb above the back door, we soon sorted out all the moving shadows and noises. Thalia’s nephew, Tib, tussled with Angie’s boyfriend. Angie darted around them, yelling and flapping her hands. The alarm squealed like a pig in a slaughterhouse. The dog across the alley barked up a storm. Outdoor lights went on, patio doors opened, people rushed out onto back porches.

Mike silenced the alarm.

Steve bellowed, “A plague on both your houses!

The teenagers froze, then slowly separated.

Thalia rushed to Tib. “Are you hurt?”

Angie snapped, “He started it.”

“Quiet,” Steve roared.

I found my voice. “With all this racket, somebody has surely called the cops. You have one chance to get our support before they arrive. Which of you opened that cellar door?” The two boys eyed each other. Angie put on her Oscar-winning pout. I eyed Thalia. “If you care about that kid’s future, make him talk.”

She prodded him in the ribs. He tossed his messy movie-idol curls off his forehead. “Okay, fine. I opened the door. But only because he was gonna do it anyway.”

“Was not!”

“I heard you planning it,” Tib sneered, leaning into Benvolio’s face. “Hiding behind the coach house, waiting until everyone was upstairs getting changed.”

Thalia yanked him backward. “That’s enough.”

“What I’d like to know,” I said, “is why you all think that basement is the place to search. It was thoroughly done over when the new boiler was installed in the 1980s.” Nobody spoke. “Okay, I’m calling Maureen. She can have you charged with trespassing and mischief, and I’m sure the cops will add a few.”

Thalia sniffed. “I told you we had a right to look, and we still think we do. But we don’t want the police involved, so I’ll tell you this much. Tib found a crack under the molding on the servant stairs, right where that girl fell down all those years ago. We couldn’t see anything from there or get our hands in, but I thought if we could find where it came out in the cellar, we could reach up and feel around.”

“Thank you.” I turned to Angie. “And you?”

She cut her eyes at her boyfriend. “He was hiding in the dressing room closet when Thalia and Tib discussed it. We thought they’d get it right away, but you threw them out, and then the cops were always around. Except during the performance.”

The cops pulled up then, and it was after 10 when everybody dispersed. I still wore Mother Gander’s dress, so I trudged back upstairs to change into my clothes, checking the costume’s hem for mud or grass stains. Overhead, Steve or Mike thumped around, checking the attic in case Suspender Boy had taken advantage of the chaos to sneak in. I gathered up all my belongings and headed for the back stairs. In the kitchen, I could put my feet up until the guys finished searching every room again.

I wasn’t thinking about where I was going, wasn’t even looking down, until something white moved in the dark stairwell. I stumbled, slipped, and skidded down the rest of the steps to the landing. My head slammed back against the lowest stair. I saw stars, even with my eyes closed. When I opened them, everything spun.

The stars were the better option.

After a bit, the stars faded. When I opened my eyes, the understudy was on her knees by my side. She was still fully made-up and wearing her pretty muslin costume. Even in my shattered state, I knew she had no business being here after 10 on a school night, but the words wouldn’t form on my tongue.

“Are you all right?” she asked tremulously. “This stair is so treacherous!”

She put her cool hand on my forehead. It eased the throbbing enough that my brain began to function again. My back ached, my ankle swelled. Nothing seemed to be broken. I tested my mouth again.

“I’m okay, “I croaked. “Why are you still here?”

She bit her lip. “I can’t get out of the house by myself.”

My eyes weren’t quite back to normal because she seemed to be wavering a bit.

“The back door unlocks from the side. You can open the bolt and go out anytime.”

A tear rolled down her cheek. I was starting to think she was a hallucination, because I could see through the hand she put up to wipe it away.

“I can’t,” she repeated. “It doesn’t work for me.”

“I don’t understand.” And then, suddenly, I did. “You’re her. You are Julia.”

She nodded.

“And you’ve been here in this house since 1913?”

“I guess. Until you all came and that lady started calling for me, I thought I was dreaming, and I couldn’t wake up.” Her smile bloomed, a trifle thin, but better than tears. “And then you talked to me, and you were dressed sort of like my uncle’s housekeeper. So I thought maybe I had been consumed by fever dreams for a time. But when I looked in the other rooms, I realized that nothing was the same, and I didn’t know what to do.”

I didn’t know what to do, either. I must be hallucinating from a head injury. Steve would find me soon, and she’d vanish as reality was restored.

But on the off chance, I asked, “What do you remember about the night you died?”

Julia sat near my feet and wrapped her arms around her knees. “That old Contessa was always yelling at me, blaming me for things. She accused me of stealing her earring, even though it fell under her dressing table. She kept telling my uncle I would surely steal the silver in the butler’s pantry, and made him lock the cupboard doors at night. When the necklace vanished, he locked me in my room, to stay until I confessed. But she unlocked the door and yelled at me. Then she hit me with her stick.” Her hand touched the hair above her ear.

“This was on the stairs?” I gestured, wincing as my head throbbed with the movement. “Here?”

“No, in my room. I was so dizzy. But she left the door ajar, so I took my chance to escape. You see,” she dropped her eyes to her hands, “her coachman was waiting outside for me. We planned to run away together.”

I sat up, slow and careful, and leaned my head against the wall for added stability. “That guy in the suspenders and hat?”

“Yes. You’re not shocked, are you? He truly loves me and wants—wanted—to rescue me from this awful life. I thought he was gone forever until you told me he was outside, still waiting.”

“Uh, sure.” It was as likely as anything else at the moment. “But that night?”

“I hid in the linen closet until everyone went to bed, and then I started down here.” Her puzzled eyes lifted to the flight behind me. “That was the last thing I remembered until I woke up later on this landing, and couldn’t get anybody to hear me. I tried to leave, but I can’t touch anything except the floor. See?” She laid her palm against the wall, and I watched it sink right through. She pulled it back. “I can’t open the door or walk through the outside walls. I was stuck here forever, unseen and unheard, until your friend told me to come back.”

Thalia was a real medium? Did she know? I vaguely recalled the incense she’d been burning in the library so many days ago. Maybe. She might have accidentally summoned both Julia and her coachman. He couldn’t get in, and Julia couldn’t get out. Real star-crossed lovers.

When I woke up, I was going to have a great story to tell Steve. Maybe he could work it into a new play for next fall.

“But do you know what happened to the necklace? Could it have fallen down a vent?”

“It’s right here.” She waved at the wall by my head. “You’re leaning on the laundry chute. The panel slides up, but the handle broke off long ago. The necklace is caught on a nail in there. I can put my hand in, but I can’t pull it out.” She eyed me speculatively. “Could you? If I show you where to pry up the panel?”

Sure. Why not? Before I woke up on the floor with Mike or Steve bending over me.

I hobbled to the kitchen, picked a butcher knife out of the block, and slid the tip where she showed me. The panel creaked. I pried it again. It crept a little further. Setting aside the blade, I squished my fingers into the gap and lifted in jerks until it gaped opened to my shoulder’s height. Looking into the dark hole, I saw stars again.

Yup. Concussion for sure. With hallucinations.

“Now feel down the inside as far as you can,” Julie instructed. “It’s hanging on a nail right there.”

I groped. There were spiderwebs. Shuddering, I felt among them until something hard moved under my fingers.

“That’s it!” she said.

Carefully, I twined an unseen fine chain around my index finger and gently eased it away from the wall. Something fell into my hand. Slowly, I withdrew my arm. Amid a century’s worth of cobwebs and dust were glints of yellow and red. I rubbed my thumb over the biggest piece. It shone red.

This was unquestionably a ruby in my palm. Surrounded by diamond chips, with filigree wings out to each side, each containing one smaller ruby and tipped with a ruby chip.

I blew the dust away as Julia cheered softly.

“You did it!” She swiped her hand through mine. The necklace shimmered. To my amazement, a ghostly copy lifted away with her fingers. “This is what I’ve been waiting for. Please, will you open the back door and see if I can leave now?”

I limped to the kitchen and opened the back door. She stood looking out, and then put one foot over the sill. It did not disappear. She stepped farther, completely outside the door, a shimmering, silvery girl in the moonlight.

“I’m free,” she said wonderingly.

Out of the darkness by the coach house came her young man, calling her name.

She rushed down the steps. He caught her in his arms and whirled her so that her fine muslin skirt flew out around her ankles. His voice was deep and hushed. “Did you get it?”

She held up the ghostly necklace. He laughed. Then he drew her away.

“Wait!” I hobbled outside as fast as I could. “How did you know where it was? Did you put it there?”

She glanced back at me from the garden path. “Of course. How else were we going to start a new life together?”

Steve found me leaning on the railing of the creaky old back porch, with a lump the size of a Volkswagen on the back of my head and a fortune in cobwebbed rubies, diamond chips, and gold dangling from my fingers.

“What the hell happened to you?” he asked.

I blinked into the darkness, where the last faint trace of white muslin was fading before my eyes.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. But the stars are uncrossed in fair Verona.”

He took me straight to the Urgent Care Center.



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Our return to live events is our biggest news as we march towards spring. But we’re pleased to highlight Jayne Barnard’s post on Sleuthsayers and her short story, “Rubies for Romeo”, for your enjoyment in mid-March.


The Mesdames and Monsieur had their first live event since COVID on Saturday, Feb 25th at the Alderwood Library. Lisa De Nikolits, M. H. Callway, Blair Keetch and Rosemary McCracken had a wonderful time sharing their crime writer journeys with an engaged audience. And we sold books! A huge thank you to the librarian, Ann Keys, for arranging this event for us.

Madeleine Harris Callway
Madeleine Harris-Callway
Lisa de Nikolits
Blair Keetch
Blair Keetch
Rosemary McCracken
Rosemary McCracken

Madeleine Harris-Callway will be attending Left Coast Crime in Tucson, Arizona from March 16 to 19th. She is delighted to be on the panel, Noir: Can It Be Too Dark?, on Sunday, March 19th at 10:15 am.

Madeleine Harris Callway
Madeleine Harris-Callway



Lisa de Nikolits’s latest novel, Everything You Dream is Real, is on the 2023 CravingCanLit list issued by the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Link:

Jayne Barnard

Jayne Barnard was a guest on Sleuthsayers in late January, where she discusses the literary jury process in “We, the Jury…” Read Jayne’s blog post.


The Mesdames’ short story in March is Jayne Barnard‘s, “Rubies for Romeo”, from our In the Spirit of 13 anthology.

Jayne Barnard
Jayne Barnard
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NEWS FLASH! Back in the Real World!



An Afternoon of Thrilling Crime

Love mysteries and crime fiction? Interested in learning about the craft and business of crime writing?

Join us for a discussion with four local mystery and crime writers: M. H. Callway, Lisa de Nikolits, Blair Keetch, and Rosemary McCracken.

This event will include readings by authors and book signings.

Saturday, February 25, 2 to 4 pm

Alderwood Branch

2 Orianna Drive


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FEBRUARY STORY: “The Canadian Caper” by Rosemary Aubert

Thirteen, an anthology of Crime Stories

This month we’re delighted to share Rosemary Aubert’s comedy mystery, “The Canadian Caper” set in Niagara Falls, New York. Her story appeared in our very first anthology, Thirteen.

Why choose Thirteen as the title? It just so happened that there were 13 founding members of the Mesdames in, you guessed it, 2013. And 13 has turned out to be our lucky number!

Rosemary grew up in Niagara Falls, NY and considered Canada her second home. Her parents could buy Red Rose Tea in Canada and she and her siblings could get firecrackers, which were illegal in the USA. She drew on her cross-border experiences to create this very funny story



Rosemary Aubert

At it again!

            Mrs. Di Rosa manoeuvred her walker so that it was flush against the sill of the hallway window on the sixth floor of Global Towers—called Wobble Towers by her smarty-pants grandchildren.  It was the only way she could free both hands in order to adjust her binoculars.          

   Damn cheap things. If they made them here, instead of some foreign country, they’d work better.

            She fiddled with them until she could see the Canadian flag clear as a bell on the other side of the river. That was one of the things her daughter said was so great about Global Towers. That you could get such a good view of the bridge from Niagara Falls, New York to Niagara Falls, Canada.

            “Could be the only place in the world where you can look out a window and see another country,” her helpful son-in-law had suggested when they’d signed her in.

            Big deal!

            She trained the binoculars on a vehicle stopped at the Canadian toll booth and gave the focus knob one more little shove. Good thing I don’t have arthritis! She tracked the long truck full of logs as it slowly made its way through the narrow entrance and onto the bridge.

            “You still looking at them trucks?”

            At the squeaky-voiced question coming from behind, Mrs. DiRosa jumped a mile. She let the binoculars fall back around her neck by their cord and grabbed her walker, turning to face the only person she could stand in Global Towers, her friend Meenie—or Teenie Meenie as Mrs. DiRosa’s grandchildren called their grandmother’s seventy-five-pound friend. Her real name was Minette, and a long time ago she’d left her home in Canada to live with her children before she, too, had been sent to the Towers.  She still spoke with a French Canadian accent.

            “What do you have to sneak up on me like that for?” Mrs. Di Rose said irritably.  “Scared the dickens out of me and messed up my focus, too.”

            “You still watchin’ them truckloads of frogs?

            “Logs, you silly old thing. Not frogs, logs.”

            “So why you watchin’ them now?” Meenie asked.

            “Look,” Mrs. DiRosa said, forgetting her disgruntlement and eager to share her remarkable discovery. “See that truck coming through now?”

            She handed the binoculars to Meenie who, being ten years younger, was more agile in every way and had no need of a walker to help her get close to the window. She held the binoculars to her eyes.

            “Yeah, I see it,” she said, “It just got to the American side. One of them nice-looking young men in the uniform is talking to the driver. So what?”

            “Get a load of the very top log. See anything funny about it?”

            Meenie was quiet for a few seconds. Studying. “I see a mark on the top log,” she finally said. “A funny mark. Maybe like a hax hit it wrong.”

            “Axe,” Mrs. DiRosa said. She had been correcting Meenie’s English now for eighteen and a half years without any noticeable effect. “Yes, that’s it.”

            “What’s funny about a hax mark on a big log?”

            “Nothing,” Mrs. DiRosa said. “Except that I’ve seen that mark on that log six times since I started counting.”


            “Meenie, that truck comes through here once every two weeks. And every single time, the same log is on top.”

            Meenie leaned closer to the window. “Comes down from Canada with the same log on top? I don’t get it.”

            Mrs. DiRosa took the binoculars from her friend’s hand. She trained them on the handsome young American customs official. She watched as he took a bunch of papers from the driver of the truck, glanced at them, nodded and waved the man on.

            “They don’t keep them long enough with nine-eleven and all,” Mrs. DiRosa said. “No wonder there’s so many smugglers.”

            Meenie laughed. “You read too many of them books. You got too much of imagination. There aren’t smugglers now. That’s stuff out of stories.”

            “No, it isn’t,” Mrs. DiRosa said, suddenly remembering bits and pieces of a conversation. “Somebody was talking about smuggling just last week.”

            Damn memory. Isn’t worth a thing. Should have eaten more carrots or something.

            Meenie thought about it for just a minute. “I know,” she said. “It was at the Trans-border social last Tuesday. You know, when those old ladies come over from Canada for lunch at the Towers.”

            “Yes, Meenie. You’re right. That’s it! They were talking about smuggling people out of foreign countries through Canada into the United States!”

            “You don’t think that truck of logs has people hid in it?”

            Mrs. DiRosa took another look out the window. The log truck was just pulling onto the Parkway, headed for points south. “The logs could be hollow or something like that. I wouldn’t be surprised. Foreigners are tricky. And getting into America is the thing they want most.”

            “But it’s a big crime!” Meenie protested.

            “Sure is,” Mrs. DiRosa said. She caught one last glimpse of the truck as it disappeared down the highway. “A whole load of criminals headed right into the heart of America.”


            It wasn’t until the next day that Mrs. DiRosa finally figured out what they had to do. “Meenie, you’ve got to talk to that nice young customs man.”

            Meenie laughed. “What I going to tell him—that my friend think people are coming in empty logs to America?”

            “Don’t be a smarty-pants. I’d do it myself only I can’t walk. You can.”

            “But I can’t talk that good. He won’t listen. He’ll just think I’m some old crazy person like Mr. Winters.”

            Mr. Winters no longer lived at Global Towers because he’d wandered onto the bridge in his underwear on a February morning, swearing he was Canadian and wanted to die at home.

            Meenie’s got a point.

            “Okay,” Mrs. DiRosa said, “I’ve got it. I’ll write everything in a letter. How I’ve been watching the bridge for weeks now and have seen the same truck with the same logs go over time after time. I’ll put in the letter about how I can see that top log from above, which is how I can tell it’s the same log, when the customs men can’t. Then they won’t feel insulted or anything.”

            “Don’t want to insult them, no,” Meenie agreed.

            “Then you’ll do it?”

            “To keep criminals out of America? Okay.”

            It didn’t take long to write the letter. Meenie was right about Mrs. DiRosa reading a lot of books. One thing it did for you was make it easy to write. She signed the letter, “An American Citizen.” That sounded good.

            Even though it would take Meenie a while to go all the way downstairs, then to the back door, then across the parking lot, then across the street, then onto the bridge and into the customs booth, Mrs. DiRosa got right up against the window the minute Meenie left her apartment.

            It seemed to take forever before she finally caught sight of her. Luckily it wasn’t a busy day on the bridge. Even without the binoculars, Mrs. DiRosa could see the customs man take the envelope from Meenie. She watched him tear it open and read the letter. Then she saw him step into the booth and pick up the telephone. She lifted the binoculars. Now she could see that the man was smiling and nodding. Was he talking to his boss? Were they going to check things out?

            She waited for what seemed like a long time. Finally the man put down the phone. He stepped out of the booth. He had something in his hand, which he gave to Meenie. He was talking to her. Mrs. DiRosa couldn’t see Meenie’s face too clearly. But she did see that Meenie’s shoulders were more slumped than usual. It didn’t seem like a good sign. It wasn’t a good sign either when the handsome young customs man patted Meenie on the head just like she was a dog.


            “All he did was give me this,” Meenie said, holding up a small, bright American flag.

            “What did he say?” Mrs. DiRosa demanded. They’d already been through this several times, but she wanted to make sure.

            “I told you,” Meenie said, twirling the flag in her fingers until Mrs. DiRosa reached out and made her stop. “He say old ladies don’t always see too good and not to worry because he’s protecting America for us.”

            Mrs. DiRosa thought about it for one minute longer. Then she made up her mind. “That log truck has something wrong about it and I’m not going to give up until we find out what it is.”

            “How come you always say ‘we’?” Meenie asked, beginning to twirl the flag again.

            “There’s only one thing we can do now,” Mrs. DiRosa announced.

            “Oh, no. What?”

            “We have to go to Canada.”

            “But you can’t even walk!”

            “We will find a way.”

            “Stop saying we,” Meenie said again, but of course, Mrs. DiRosa wasn’t listening. She was thinking again.


            The first thing they had to do was borrow a wheelchair from the office. It wasn’t easy because for several years now, Mrs. DiRosa had told the Global Towers’ social worker that the only place she was going to be wheeled was to her grave.

             “Where you be goin’ then, sweetie?” the social worker asked. She was a nice young girl with a master’s degree in social work from some university in Georgia.

            Too bad they don’t teach English in college any more. “To the library,” Mrs. DiRosa lied, and Meenie, who was standing behind her, nodded.

            “Well, you all be careful now, you hear?”

            “Of course,” both the old women said sweetly and simultaneously.

            “Good, we fooled her,” Mrs. DiRosa told Meenie as she got herself down into the chair and arranged a blanket around her legs. “Now we’ve got to get going. The plan’s simple. We just wheel right on out the back door, over the parking lot, across the street—be sure to watch both ways—and onto the bridge. On the American side we’ve just got to pay the toll—no questions asked. Once we get over to Canada, I’ll tell them you don’t speak any English. That way I can do all the talking.”

            “What if they find out we’re missing from the Towers?” Meenie wasn’t nearly as sure of the plan as Mrs. DiRosa.

            “No problem. Today’s Tuesday—Trans-border social day. It’s Canada’s turn. I signed us both up. That bus driver’s so lazy, he never checks how many there are. And if the Canadians have any questions, we just say we missed the Trans-border Social Club bus.”

            Meenie shook her head. “I don’t think…”

            “You don’t have to think,” Mrs. DiRosa said. “You just have to push.”


            It was cold going across the bridge even though it was the middle of June. The wind off the river smelled a certain way that Mrs. DiRosa remembered from long ago. It had been almost twenty years since she’d gone across the bridge in any way except by her daughter and son-in-law’s car. She remembered Mr. DiRosa and all the times they went to Canada together in the old days, bringing back good Canadian tea and jam and cheese and toffee that killed your teeth and—for the Fourth of July—nice Canadian firecrackers that you had to hide under your blouse to get across. The memory of it made tears come to her eyes and the tears gave her a good idea.

            “Don’t say a thing, Meenie,” Mrs. DiRosa reminded her friend as they came within a few yards of the Canadian customs booth. They could see the outline of a person behind the glass of the booth, but when the person stepped out with a little smile on her face, Mrs. DiRosa was surprised.  She’d expected the Canadian customs officer to be a handsome young man just like the American one. Only it was a young woman instead. A smart-looking young woman.

            “Well now, ladies, what can I do for you?” the girl said. She looked friendly, but suspicious, too. Mrs. DiRosa was glad about the new angle to her plan.

            She sniffled and squeezed her eyes shut, and made a few of the tears that were still in her eyes run down her cheeks. “I have come home to die,” she said.

            She could feel the back of the wheelchair wiggle a little bit, but Meenie kept her mouth shut.

            The young woman looked shocked.   “Come in here, ladies,” she said, her voice a little shaky, “just wait for a moment, please.”

            She opened the door to the customs office. Meenie wheeled Mrs. DiRosa in. The customs officer disappeared down a narrow hall.

            The minute she was out of sight, Meenie came around the front of the wheelchair. She was good and mad. “What’s the matter with you?” she demanded of Mrs. DiRosa. “Why you tell them such a crazy thing? You want to be like Mr. Winters? How that fix the smugglers?”

            “Calm down,” Mrs. DiRosa said. “Remember how they got all those officials to come to the bridge when old Winters went crazy? They’ll call the same ones now. The minute the bigwigs get here, we’ll spill the beans.”

            They heard footsteps coming down the hall, the light steps of the female officer and then heavier steps.

            “Here they come.”


            It was in all the papers: the Niagara Gazette, the Buffalo Evening News, even the papers up in Toronto and the Pennysaver. Mrs. DiRosa cut out the articles and taped them up on her wall. They showed her and Meenie talking to a reporter, and they said how they’d tipped off the bridge people and broken up a ring of people smugglers.

            Mrs. DiRosa’s daughter was hopping mad at first. “I signed you up at the Towers so you would be safe, and look what you do—running off after smugglers.”

            “I didn’t run after them, I just turned them in,” Mrs. DiRosa said.

            “Well, I’m taking those binoculars away right now. I don’t want you to put yourself at risk like this ever again”

            Mrs. DiRosa thought fast. “I’ll give them in to the penny sale,” she said. “Then somebody else can benefit by them.”

            Her daughter was about to answer that when the phone rang. It was a TV reporter from New York. She forgot about the binoculars when she found out Mrs. DiRosa was going to be on the news right across the country.

            “You’re hot now, Grandma,” her grandchildren said when they heard that.


            Mrs. DiRosa manoeuvred her walker so that it was flush against the windowsill. She lifted the binoculars to her eyes.

            “What you lookin’ at now? More trucks?”

            “Course not,” she said to Meenie. “I’m just checking to make sure these are all right before I give them in for the penny sale. You know how mad that social worker gets when people donate things that don’t work.”

            Mrs. DiRosa leaned against the walker and freed her other hand to fiddle with the focus. She could see the Canadian flag clear as a bell across the river.

            Good thing they teach people to respect their elders in Canada.

            That’s what she was thinking when she saw it again. Just as she had seen it twice before: a van driven by a man pulled into one of the parking lots a little ways down the river from the entrance to the bridge. The man seemed to disappear into the back of the van. Then after a little while, the front door of the van opened and a woman walked out. No sign of the man anymore. Like he had up and disappeared altogether. The woman walked toward the bridge, paid the toll and began to walk over the bridge right toward America.

            “Lots of crooks in this world, Meenie,” Mrs. DiRosa said.

            “We gonna need that wheelchair again?” Meenie asked.

            Could be, Meenie, could be….


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WOW WHAT A YEAR – PART TWO- Author Celebration!


The Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem had one of their busiest years ever in 2022! Part 1 told about our recognitions and our many happenings: conferences, book launches, podcasts, readings, interviews and more.

Part 2 tells you about our authors, their books, stories and recognitions. We had a fabulously active year in 2022, We released 8 new books, reissued more than half a dozen reader favorites and published nearly 50 short stories and novellas! For a full listing, check out our Year End Book Review here: THE MESDAMES 2022 YEAR END BOOK REVIEW.


More and more crime fiction anthologies are being published. In 2022, we edited and/or published stories in FOURTEEN anthologies. Time for a Best Anthology Award!

In the Spirit of 13, our fifth anthology in celebration of our 10th anniversary, included 23 stories by 22 Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem. For this outing, we let our imaginations run wild, interpreting spirit to mean ghost, demon, the evil in human hearts – or plain old alcohol.

Cold Canadian Crime celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Crime Writers of Canada and included stories by Melodie Campbell, Lisa De Nikolits, Blair Keetch, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy and Sylvia Warsh.

And there were a DOZEN more. (The names of Mmes authors are in the captions.)

Jayne Barnard
M. H. Callway
Jayne Barnard
Jayne Barnard
Melissa Yi
Kevin Thornton, “The Odd Event”
Kevin Thornton
Kevin Thornton
Kevin Thornton
The Adventure of the Lusterless Client by Kevin Thornton
The Victoria Hall Tragedy by Kevin Thornton
The Problem of the Pilfered Promptuary by Kevin Thornton


Catherine Astolfo

Catherine Astolfo wrote “The Spirit of St. Louis” for In the Spirit of 13. She also published two comedy mystery novellas in Twice the Chit, featuring the retired mystery-solving hippies of Chittendom Creek. And she reissued her crime novel, Legacy, in the Emily Taylor series.

Rosemary Aubert
Rosemary Aubert

Rosemary’s supernatural chiller, “The Phone” appears In the Spirit of 13.

She is working on several projects, including a compilation of her teachings on creative writing.

Jane Petersen Burfield
Jane Burfield

Jane published her spooky tale, “Whispers” in In the Spirit of 13.

She continues to work on several literary projects.

Jayne Barnard
Jayne Barnard

Jayne edited and wrote the story, “Midsummer’s Day Dream” for SinC West’s second anthology, Crime Wave 2, Women of a Certain Age. She published stories in the anthologies, Prairie Witch and Nothing Without Us Too and she penned “Rubies for Romeo” in In the Spirit of 13. Plus she reissued 3 books in her steampunk Maddie Hattie series.

M. H. Callway

Mad had two firsts in 2022: a UK publication in the anthology, Gone, by Red Dog Press and her thriller, “Last Island” was the cover story for the November issue of Mystery Magazine. She also wrote the novella, “Amdur’s Ghost”, for In the Spirit of 13, a second story featuring beleaguered civil servant, Dr. Amdur.

Melodie Campbell

The publication date of Melodie’s new mystery series The Merry Widow Murders is set for May 2023. She published “The Kindred Spirits Detective Agency” in In the Spirit of 13 and took a serious turn with “Death of a Ghost” in Cold Canadian Crime. She co-wrote “Tough Nuts” with Des Ryan for the July issue of Mystery Magazine. She also reissued her time-travel Ramona series (now in audiobook) as well as being a regular contributor on Sleuthsayers blog. Her cross-genre story, “A Ship Called Pandora”, was reprinted in Issue 14 of Black Cat Weekly magazine.

Donna Carrick

Donna is chief editor and the publisher of In the Spirit of 13 for which she wrote her chilling noir story, “Beloved Ink”. Her podcast, Dead to Writes is now in its 5th season! In 2022, she interviewed all 22 authors in In the Spirit of 13. She was also a guest author on the CWC’s webinar program teaching short story writing.

Lisa published her 11th novel, Everything You Dream is Real (Inanna Press), the sequel to her critically acclaimed novel, The Rage Room. She also published her novella, “In a Land of Fear and Denial”, in In the Spirit of 13 and her story, “Somewhere Near Sudbury”, in Cold Canadian Crime. She continued her podcast, I Read Somewhere That and participated in many interviews and blog tours.

Cheryl Freedman wrote the intriguing tale, “Possessed” about a dybbuk (a Jewish demon) for In the Spirit of 13.

She continues her work as a full-time editor.

Therese Greenwood
Therese Greenwood

Therese loves to write historical crime fiction and her Prohibition tale, “The Iron Princess” appears in In the Spirit of 13.

She works full-time to keep the people of Fort McMurray safe.

Blair Keetch

Blair Keetch had a busy year in 2022. In addition to his supernatural thriller, “To Catch a Kumiho”, In the Spirit of 13, he published “Sex, Lies and Snowmobiles” in Cold Canadian Crime. And his flash fiction, “Glimmers” appeared in the leading crime fiction publication, Shot Gun Honey.

Marilyn Kay
Marilyn Kay

Marilyn, wrote her thriller,”Rise Up”, for In the Spirit of 13. She’s continuing to keep our readers up to date as editor of our monthly newsletter, Mesdames on the Move.

She’s currently completing her first novel, a police procedural.

Rosemary McCracken

Rosemary McCracken published her chilling story, “In From the Cold” in Cold Canadian Crime and followed that up with her tongue-in-cheek tale, “The Fur Coat Conundrum”, for In the Spirit of 13.

She’s working on the fifth book in her popular Pat Tierney series, the financial planner turned amateur sleuth.

Cat Mills
Cat Mills

Cat released two documentaries in 2022, Me, Mahmoud and The Mint Plant and The Billboard Squad. Both have been featured at several Canadian and international film festivals.

And her debut mystery story, “The Dollhouse” appears in In the Spirit of 13!

Lynne had an amazing year. Her new book, Potluck (Carrick Publishing), brings together her mystery stories about the eccentrics residing at the Golden Elders condo tower. It also includes her new novella, A Damaged Heart.

Plus she published her story, “The Lady-Killer”, in Cold Canadian Crime and two stories in In the Spirit of 13: “The Trespassers” and “Gracie, The Invisible Dog”.

Ed Piwowarczyk
Ed Piwowarczyk

Ed’s supernatural thriller, “The Haunting of Mississippi Belle” appears in In the Spirit of 13. The historical Hollywood setting was a natural for a film buff like Ed.

He was also Chief Copy Editor for In the Spirit of 13.

Rosalind Place

As editor of Mesdames on the Move, Roz keeps readers up to date year-round on all the Mesdames and Messieurs’ doings.

She wrote her haunting historical thriller, “A Faint Disturbance of Hope”, for In the Spirit of 13.

Madona’s lovable crook turned reluctant psychic, Lenny, appears in a new story, “Moving On”, for In the Spirit of 13.

Madona also participated on several conference and workshop panels in 2022, most recently the Ottawa Maple Leaf Mini-Conference.

Caro published The River District and The Visitors, Books 6 and 7 of her Merculian Mystery series, featuring her detective, Marlo, of the dual-gendered planet. Her twisted tale, “The Yellow Bird”, appeared in In the Spirit of 13.

She also headed up the Mesdames of Mayhem’s table at Word on the Street, now back in the real world as of 2022.

Kevin Thornton
Kevin Thornton

Kevin, our intrepid Sherlockian, penned SEVEN tales of the Great Detective in 2022. (See the anthologies at the top of this blog for the links). And he wrote his caper story, “The Fixer”, set in Sicily’s wine-growing district for In the Spirit of 13.

Sylvia Warsh

Sylvia’s chilling tale, “The Natural Order of Things”, appeared in the May/June issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. She published the domestic thriller, “There are Always Secrets”, in Cold Canadian Crime and the darkly satirical, “Aunt Bertie Tries to Save the World,” in In the Spirit of 13

Melissa Yi

Melissa had another stellar year. Her story, “Dead Man’s Hand”, published in EQMM, was a finalist for the CWC Award of Excellence for Best Short Story. She published four short stories in 2022: “My Two Legs” in the September/October issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine; “Blue Christmas” in Crime Never Takes a Holiday; “Candy Cane Kisses” in WMG Holiday Spectacular 2022 and “The Mob Bar Mob” in In the Spirit of 13.

She published THREE books: the YA novella, Dogs vs Aliens, Grandma Othello and Shaolin Monks in Space; the story collection, Chinese Cinderella, Fairy Godfathers and Beastly Beauty; and The Shapes of Wrath, the first book in her new Dr. Hope Sze series, based on the seven deadly sins, which she successfully crowdfunded!

Her story, “White Snow and Seven Dreams” was a finalist for the Surrey Muse Arts Society’s 2022 Joy Kogawa Award for Fiction, beating out more than 300 entrants!

And her play, The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World, was chosen by Calgary’s Stage One Festival. She performed the play to rave reviews in July at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.


Marilyn Kay
Marilyn Kay
Rosalind Place
Roz Place
Posted in Anthologies, Awards/Achievements, books, Dead to Writes, News | Leave a comment


There’s more than candy in the boxes, dear readers.

We’ve got new publications, super events, a caper short story by Rosemary Aubert and more to offer you this February.


Melissa Yi" Shapes of Wrath

Buy your copy at or support your local bookstore.

Virtual Book Launch

Join the celebration at the virtual book launch/book lunch party on February 6th!!

Mme Melissa Yi’s new book The Shapes of Wrath is now available. Read the fantastic reviews here.

The hand that wields the scalpel

Dr. Hope Sze launches into her general surgery rotation with Dr. Vrac, the scourge of operating room #3, also known as the death OR.

Dr. Vrac screams at the resident doctors suffering under him, the nurses who don’t move fast enough, the anesthesiologist, his auto mechanic, and even a garbage can.

Patients begin to die under Dr. Vrac’s scalpel.

This morning, Hope discovers a dead man in the back of the OR.

Next, a ghost lingers outside of Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Hospital.

a) WTF and b) can Hope outwit the enraged killer before someone slices her throat?

Now Available from the Toronto Public Library

Mme Lynne Murphy’s book, Pot Luck, has been accepted into the Toronto District Library as has our latest anthology, In The Spirit of 13.


Meet and learn with the Mesdames at this Toronto Public Library event:

· Come and meet M. H. Callway, Lisa De Nikolits, Blair Keetch, Rosemary McCracken

Location: Alderwood Branch, 2 Orianna Drive, Toronto, Saturday, February 25th, 2:00 to 4 pm.

·An Afternoon of Thrilling Crime: The Mesdames of Mayhem share their knowledge and experiences with emerging writers. Admittance is free.

Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference

The Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference is at the Metro Toronto Convention Center from February 1-4, 2023. This year’s theme is Walking in Two Worlds. Mme Lisa de Nikolitis will be there with her newest book Everything You Dream is Real, on February 3rd at 2 p.m. Note: This is a paid event.

Mme Madeleine Harris-Callway will attend Left Coast Crime in Tucson, Arizona, from March 16 to 19th. Panel announcements are to be made in mid-February.

M.H. Calllway


Check out Mme Melodie Campbell’s very interesting blog post in SleuthSayers about serving on a book jury. Here’s the link: “SleuthSayers: We, The Jury.”

Melodie Campbell


The Mesdames’ short story in February is Mme Rosemary Aubert‘s, “The Canadian Caper”, from our very first anthology, Thirteen.


Posted in Anthologies, books, events, Writing | Leave a comment


13 Claws Anthology

The Outlier is one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read. It was first published in the Mesdames of Mayhem’s third anthology, 13 Claws, where our theme was animals…and crime. (Carrick Publishing, 2017) And it won the Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence for Best Short Story in 2018.

All I can say is never trust a man who keeps pigs…

M. H. Callway

The Outlier


Catherine Astolfo

If I’d paid attention to Marvin, none o’ this would’ve happened.  For that matter, I should’ve seen the signs left by the burglar when he cased the joint. 

Whenever I take my semi-annual trips to St. John’s, stocking up for the seasons, the hours of hard driving there and back again take their toll on the old man I have become. Especially the early winter one.

 This little spot isn’t called Back Side Harbor for nothing. We’re the ass end of a narrow strip of land—technically an isthmus—that juts out into the Atlantic.

Back Side is an outport. Pay attention to that word ‘out’. It has a lot of uses here in Newfoundland. Outport family names go back many decades even though most o’ those families moved out of here during resettlement. There are a dozen villagers left, give or take. They think their shit smells good because they have those historical names. However, since none of us goes out, it’s hard to tell who’s still here and whether or not they really are a Gill or a Butt.

I’m an outlier, a person who’s come from away, so I get even less attention from any of the harbor dwellers. Which suits me just fine, since being out of contact is my goal.

I live on the hill above the harbor in a little cottage. Been here ten years now. One big room runs along the front part with a living area and a kitchen. The back part has a bedroom and a bathroom.

I have a corn-fed stove that keeps the whole place warm in winter and the windows send cool ocean breezes in the summer. No electricity, but a big old generator gives me all I need.

With such a small space to look after, you’d think Id’ve taken note that first day when I found my mattress shifted slightly on the bed. Next, the shutter in the kitchen left open. The third day, a lack of snow on the doorstep, as though it had been blown away by someone’s boot.

My excuse—I was just so damn tired. That trip to the city is brutal. I’m creeping onto ninety years old next year, if I’m still here. I can’t do three whole days away from home any more. I don’t sleep well in those cheap hotels. Everything is just so…noisy. Like a big loud cell block in a federal prison.

The day the kid arrived I was still tired from the trip. Not to mention the tasks I’d had to face when I got home.

I drowsed all afternoon with Miss Kitty. She’s a big old tabby cat who wandered by one day and stayed.  She likes to curl up on my stomach, makin’ biscuits in the blanket with her paws.

I sat and listened to the CBC on the radio. Played some solitaire. Did nothing and paid no attention, just like Miss Kitty.

Marvin, on the other hand, sniffed and snorted everywhere during those four days. He knew there was something off. He can always tell when a stranger invades our privacy.

Here’s the quick version of Marvin’s story. I was comin’ back from one of those voyages to the city when we were stopped on the highway by a rollover.

From out of the damaged back end of the truck, down the road trotted a whole bunch of pigs. They’d been hauling them off to the bacon factory.

Only Marvin made it as far as my car. The rest of the porcine escapees got recaptured, run over by traffic on the other side, or disappeared into the brush. I watched this big guy waddle along the side of the highway, head up, going who knew where. He was simply scramblin’ fast as he could in the opposite direction of that truck.

Thing is, I didn’t think about what I did. I certainly didn’t expect the result I got either. I admired that pig’s determination to get away so I leaned over and opened my passenger door. And into the old car hopped Marvin.

As it turns out, pigs make great pets. They’re clean, smart, they’ll eat whatever’s on offer and they like people. Marvin’s a bit stubborn, likes his own way in things, but so do I and so does Miss Kitty. We make a great trio.

The kid came at night, when I was fast asleep. There were three signs of his invasion that I could not miss.

First, the sound of a chair falling over (though I didn’t know that was what caused the bang until later).

Second, Miss Kitty used her claws in fright to lift herself off me, even digging below the blanket and through my long johns.

Third, Marvin made his squealing noise, a throaty, screechy kind of sound that feels like pins in your ears.

I sat straight up in my bed and, what with the noise and the cat’s nails, soon had my feet on the ground.

I didn’t need to tiptoe into the front of the house. Marvin was raising such a racket that a truck could’ve driven through the living room and no one would have heard it.  

The young guy was sprawled out on the floor. He’d obviously come in through the kitchen window, stepped on that rickety chair and sent it and himself tumbling to the floor. Unfortunately for him and Marvin, he landed on the pig.

I went for the guy without a second thought. Lifted him off my pet. Flipped him over onto his stomach. Pulled his left arm behind and upwards ‘til he made squeals of his own.

In the meantime, Marvin scrambled to his feet, still carrying on, but now he was snorting with indignation.

I reached over to the drawer nearby and got my fingers on a couple of cable ties. I soon had the asshole’s hands tied behind his back.

I rolled him over and clipped his ankles together for good measure. Then I lit the kerosene lamp.

I checked on poor Marvin, who was still mad, but he looked and felt okay.

Then I had a long gander at my intruder.

He was a young ‘un. Early twenties, maybe even late teens. Fair hair and freckles. At the moment his baby blues were liquid with fear and shock.

I figured he didn’t expect me to be home. Even if he thought I might be here, he didn’t think an old guy like me could take him down.

I put the chair back on its feet and sat.

“So, by, what the feck’re ya doin’ in my house?” I asked, using as good a Newfoundland accent as I could manage.

He didn’t struggle. Just lay there panting for a moment.

“Are you gonna call the cops?” he finally gasped.

“Not much point to that. They’re all the way over to Fishy Cove and they’re closed at night.”

I waited a moment.

“That’s all you got to say?”

The boy’s eyes were clearing. He almost looked defiant.

“I knew you’d say that.”

“Say what?”

“About not callin’ the cops.”

“Did ya now?”

I got up and stretched, feeling the takedown in my lower back and shoulders.

“Since we’re all up, we might as well have a cuppa tea and a yarn. What do you t’ink?”

My visitor had the grace not to answer.

We needed something to cheer us up. After all, we’d suffered a big shock.

I gave Marvin one of his favorite treats, a mishmash of broccoli, carrots and squash. He snorted a few times, but soon got distracted by the food.

Miss Kitty still hadn’t surfaced, but I put some tuna down in a bowl just in case.

I lit the gas stove and put the kettle on the burner. I got the Bailey’s from the icebox and poured a good measure into my teacup.

While the water boiled I took my handcuffs down and swiftly replaced the cable ties. I let him keep one hand free while the other dangled from the chain and eyehook on the wall.

He yanked on the chain once but seemed satisfied that he was stuck. He settled in.

 I pulled my old armchair closer to the wall and propped the kid against it so he could sit up.

Once the tea was ready, I sat on a chair, angled so I could see the young man’s face. We sipped in silence for a few minutes. Like he’d just dropped in for a nice winter’s chat.

He should’ve thought to dress like a mummer, hide his face under a mask. Either the guy was dumb or he was new to breaking and entering.

“You thought I wouldn’t be home, wha?”

“No, I thought I could sneak in.”

That made me laugh.

“Well, I’d say the arse fell out of ‘er on that one. You from around here?”

He shook his head. “I’m from Vancouver.”

“Whoa. You’re way off your patch, aren’t ya?”

“So are you.”

I chuckled and shook my head.

“Mind now, you’re the one come into my house. I gets to ask the questions.”

“I know who you are.”

“It’s my turn then. Who owns ya? Related to an outport family?”

“You’re not a Newfie. Stop talking like one.”

I laughed heartily.

“Reminds me of that old joke. The mother says to her wayward boy, ‘Son, why-a you do deese t’ings to-a me?’ and the son says, ‘Ma, why are talking like that? We’re not Italian.’”

I guffawed some more. I was beginning to have fun. That’s what comes from living without other humans. You are easily amused when they do show up.

I leaned over, still laughing. When I slapped him across the face, he looked as though I’d betrayed him.

“What. Are. You. Doing. In. My. Home.” I punctuated each word so he could understand me above the likely ringing in his ears.

Tears slid down his cheeks, but he was still determined to be rude and a liar.

“I needed money.”

I waved my hands around the cottage.

“And you thought I’d have lots of it hidden here on the hill above Back Side Harbor. You are dumber than I thought and that’s pretty dumb.”

“I meant…I thought I could take something and sell it.”

I smiled at him. He really was stupid.

“Like my teacup?” I held it aloft, displaying the side with a prominent chip. “How much will this beauty fetch? Was ya born on a raff?”

When I stopped laughing, I scowled and leaned over him, snatched his empty cup.

“Maybe you can tell the truth about the who. Who are you? No ballyraggin’ this time.”

I used the quiet, menacing voice that tends to encourage reluctant truth telling.

He pulled the lids over his big eyes, fear crowding out the defiance. He thought he could hide the sudden vulnerability he was feeling.


Why are there so many stupid criminals these days? In my day it took cunning and careful study of the minutiae. The ‘what ifs’, the contingencies, the back stories.

“Don’t feckin’ lie to me, b’y.” This time I must admit my voice rose a little.

 “I…my name is Brent Hillyard. I do come from Vancouver. That was the truth.”

“Well, Brent, nice to meet ya. I’m Jason.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Jaysus, idd’n you a stunned one?”

He cried out when the cup landed on his forehead. Bled like a sucker too.

I got another cup out of the cupboard and fixed us more tea. Mine got an even larger dollop of Bailey’s than last time.

I pulled out the lassy buns I’d bought in St. John’s. A rare luxury that the stupid kid in front of me, had he any manners, ought to appreciate. I was a regular Martha Stewart.

I handed him a clean handkerchief too so he wouldn’t get blood on my floor. It’s a bitch to get that stuff out of the carpet.

I munched on one of those delicious treats while he blotted at his cut. With any kinda luck, he wouldn’t feel like eating.

“Lots of people calls me Jason,” I said between bites. “That’s what you’ll call me too.”

He said nothing. Sulking I supposed.

“So. We gots the who and the why. I needs to know the how. Or did I get the why? I’ve been t’inkin’. Maybe there’s another reason you tripped all this way to the Back Side. You thought I might have some souvenirs. Any other reason?”

He looked pretty scared now. Sometimes people get that way when they’ve been hurt. Not too many of us is used to being doused on the head. Or on any other body part for that matter.

“I…I’m kind of a reporter.”

“Kind of? Either you are or you aren’t. You can’t be kind of. That’s like you’re kind of a moose or not.”

He considered that for a moment. “I work in the mailroom right now. My dad’s the chief editor and he insisted I start at the bottom.”

“Uh-huh. Now that’s some wise, b’y.”

“I thought if I uncovered a big story, he’d…well, he’d promote me faster.”

“I dies at dat, fella. You are some full o’ yourself. So you takes off work and comes all the way out ‘ere cuz you t’ink I’m a big story. Huh.”

I took another lassy bun.

“I ought to be flattered, I suppose. After all these years I’m still a big story.”

“You’ll always be a big story,” he said. “No one will ever forget what you did.”

I stood up so quickly that my chair fell backwards.

“I’m havin’ trouble believing a dimwit like you found me when no one else has. Maybe you should use those smarts to show your father you’re a hard worker instead of trying to take the easy way around.”

I stretched up and back, hands on my hips. Took a few deep breaths, in my nose and out my mouth. Ten years of perfect solitude, no fools to hound me, no idiots to spread vicious rumors of my supposed exploits.

And this goof, this lowlife idiot, had cracked the mystery of my whereabouts? I had a difficult time calming down, I tell you.

“You might as well tell me how, lad.”

I righted my chair and sat down again, folded my arms and tried to achieve a kindly old man’s expression.

“Have a lassy bun first. You must be ‘ungry.”

While he munched, he stared at me the whole time. I was a museum piece to him. I gazed right back, knowing full well the emotions I felt weren’t visible.

The boy’s expression, on the other hand, clearly displayed curiosity, horror, fear, and even a hint of defiance.

The newspapers always described my eyes as “dead.” How can eyes be dead in the face of a person who is alive? Impossible. They meant devoid of feeling. Uncaring, calm, nothing to see here. Back away. That’s what they should have said.

This boy didn’t back away, though. I wondered if, instead of stupid, he was a bit like me. He cared about nothing and no one. In his case, his sole purpose was self-aggrandizement. Maybe he was more worthy than I thought.

“All right. Hope you liked your breakfast.”

He nodded, unable to halt the manners he’d clearly been taught.

“Yes, thank-you.”

I let the Newfoundland accent slip, winding him up, letting him think he’d gotten through.

“Tell me how you found me and maybe I’ll give you a story to take away with you.”

Brent sat up straighter. He was clearly pleased and excited.

He would never make it as a reporter. He was far too easily manipulated.

“I have some connections in the prison. The last one you were in,” he said.

I nodded, though I felt like saying, “Well, duh.”

“My friend was a guard there. He got me an interview with your old cellmate.”

Brent. You broke into my home. I am hosting you with great patience. I don’t expect lies.”

“Oh yah, yah, sorry, I meant a guy who was in the same segregation block as you. You know, the protective solitary cells where…”

“I guess I know all that. Stay on point.”

He nodded, eager to please me now.

“Yes, yes, of course. Anyway, this prisoner talked quite a lot to my friend. He claimed he’d heard you say to your lawyer that if they ever granted parole, you’d go to the other side of the country, like Newfoundland, and hide out.”

Those damn cells were like echo chambers.

“Okay. So did you search all over Newfoundland for the last ten years and just get lucky?”

“Of course not. I was just nine when…”

All I had to do this time was point my finger.

“Right, right. On point. So my friend kept in touch with this fellow even after he was released. By coincidence, the guy settled in St. John’s. He told my friend that he swore he saw you in town one day.”

I sat in silence for a moment. Saw me in town? Me in my silver wig and thick glasses and beard?

There had been a few times over the years when I’d felt as though someone had been watching. When I caught a pair of eyes that lingered a bit too long on my face. I’d always chalked it up to paranoia. Damn. As they say, just because you think people are watching you, it doesn’t mean they aren’t.

“And what did you do with that information?”

Brent looked a little embarrassed.

“I hired a PI in St. John’s to look out for you. In your disguise, like the other fellow described. Kevin’s No Frills.”

“You paid a guy to sit in a grocery store all year?”

“No, no, of course not. I just hired him for the week the con said he saw you. I figured if you were staying somewhere isolated, you’d have to stock up, and you probably did it the same week every year.”

He sure looked proud of himself. I was surprised by his ingenuity.

“That’s actually pretty smart for a dumbass,” I said.

“Well, the PI was the one who suggested…”

“And he knows you found me?”

Brent looked confused.

“He was the one who found you. He followed you up here and called me to give me directions.”

“So that’s who the burglar was,” I mused.


“We had us a burglar a few nights ago. Or at least, we thought that’s what he was. Guess he was your PI instead.”

Brent nodded eagerly. “Maybe. Though I’m surprised he would come into your house.”

I shrugged. “Maybe he was after my teacup too?”

“Well, Paul, let’s face it, you are the most famous serial killer in Canada. Lots of places in the US, too. They even made a movie and some television…”

If only he hadn’t pushed. He was some stunned, that kid. Didn’t even notice the look on my face as he prattled on about my crimes. The ones I did, the ones they say I did but wasn’t convicted for.

“There are lots and lots of people who believe you never should have been paroled. There were quite a few protests against it. Did you know that?” Brent asked.

He still thought we were having a conversation.

“I did know that. I got attacked quite often, both inside and outside.”

“I read that! Can I quote you when I write the story?”

“Lad, you can quote me all you like when you write the story.”

“I can’t believe it! You are not what I expected at all.”

“What did you expect?”

He paused, a look of embarrassment flashing through his eyes. He even blushed a little.

“A monster?” I guessed. “Not a harmless old man who serves you tea and lassy buns?”

“Well, you did slap me and you threw the cup at me, but…well, I didn’t think you’d let me write the story, to be honest.”

“Oh me nerves, you got me drove,” I said so quietly that he kept on flapping his mouth.

“People are going to go nuts for this story. My dad will have to promote me and I’ll be a real reporter. Probably take over his job when he retires.”

“Do you think people will change their minds about letting me out when they read how old and harmless I am now?” I asked.

“I do. I can write it for sympathy if you like. Explain a few things if you want me to.”

“Explain that I didn’t do half of what they claimed, you mean?”

“Sure, if that’s your story, I will tell it.”

I stared at his small, petty lips with its satisfied smirk. The mouth that formed a silent “Oh” when I broke his neck.

“Well the story would be wrong,” I said to his truly dead eyes. “Once you have a monster caged, you should keep him there. Or keep him away from people. Let an outlier be.”

The silence was perfect.

Miss Kitty came out of hiding and began to lap up her tuna.

The kid wasn’t as much work as the burglar. That fella was a big bugger. Belatedly, I felt a grudging admiration for him, too. He’d never let on that he was a PI. Nor did he rat out the kid. Maybe he knew there’d be no tickets out of the harbor, so he kept himself to himself.

I figure I will only have to do this one more time when I pay a visit to my old pal from prison in St. John’s. Good thing, too. I’m getting too old for such excitement.

And Marvin’s getting too old for such rich food. I think I mentioned before that pigs make great pets. They’ll eat whatever’s on offer.

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WOW WHAT A YEAR – Part One – Kudos and Events!

Happy New Year, Readers!

In 2022, the Mesdames and Messieurs came back into the Real World via several wonderful live events while we kept busy with podcasts, virtual book launches and conferences.

And we enjoyed recognition both as a group and as individual authors!


On October 15th, Carrick Publishing released In the Spirit of 13, our 5th anthology, in celebration of the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem’s 10th anniversary.

This outing, we let our imaginations go wild. We crafted 23 tales, ranging from comedy to noir, that celebrated ghosts, demons, the evil of human nature and even alcohol!

Our collection received a warm review from Jack Batten, in one of the last he wrote for The Toronto Star before he retired. Jack said:

There’s more than enough to light up and surprise readers for many nights of pleasure, some of it in easygoing whimsy.”


The Mesdames of Mayhem were the subject of the full-page article, “Murder, She Wrote”, published in the Saturday Toronto Star on October 29, 2022. Contributing columnist Briony Smith wrote about our joy penning crime fiction – and our warm friendship. Read the full article in the Toronto Star.


Melodie Campbell
Melodie Campbell

Melodie Campbell interviewed two of crime fiction’s superstars: Ian Rankin who was a guest author at the Maple Leaf Mystery Conference, May 24 to 28th. And Linwood Barclay on May 19th at the launch of his latest novel, Take Your Breath Away, in Burlington.

Her mentee, Delee Fromm’s entry, The Strength to Rise, was a finalist for the Crime Writers of Canada Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript.

Melissa Yi had a stellar year. Her short story, “Dead Man’s Hand“, published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, March 2021, was a finalist for the CWC Best Short Story Award.

Her story, “White Snow and Seven Dreams” was a finalist for the Surrey Muse Arts Society’s 2022 Joy Kogawa Award for Fiction, beating out more than 300 entrants!

And her play, The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World, was chosen by Calgary’s Stage One Festival. She performed the play to rave reviews in July at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

Cat Mills
Cat Mills

Cat Mills released two critically acclaimed films this year: Me, Mahmoud and the Mint Plant and The Billboard Squad, a documentary for Al-Jazeera.

Both films were shown at several film festivals, including the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival, Lunenberg Documentary Festival, St. Johns International Women’s Film Festival and Planet in Focus Film Festival.

Mme Mad

M. H. Callway‘s story, “Last Island”, was the cover story of the November issue of Mystery Magazine.



On October 30th, we launched In the Spirit of 13 at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street. It was a smashing success! Sleuth’s was packed with friends, fans, family and well-wishers.

Lisa De Nikolits, Cat Mills and Jane Burfield
Donna Carrick (centre) and Alex Carrick (R)
Blair Keetch, Lynne Murphy, Cat Mills, Lisa de Nikolits, Jane Burfield, Sylvia Warsh, Ed Piwowarczyk, Donna Carrick

A great highlight was making Sleuth’s co-owner, Marian Misters, an honorary Mme of Mayhem.

We followed up on November 13th with a successful Zoom launch, with special thanks to backroom tech wizard, Ted Carrick.

Marian Misters
Blair Keetch, Lynne Murphy
Sylvia Warsh (centre), Ed Piwowarczyk, Donna Carrick ,
M. H. Callway


Lisa De Nikolits

On November 17th, Lisa de Nikolits launched her new novel, Everything You Dream is Real, the sequel to her acclaimed thriller, The Rage Room at a fab hybrid event organized by her publisher, Inanna Publications.

And in December, continuing on into January 2023, she embarked on an extensive blog tour.

During 2022, Lisa was featured on several national and international interviews and did a reading of her work at the CanLit Authors Fest on June 18th.

Lynne Murphy
Lynne Murphy

Lynne Murphy had a fabulous Zoom launch on April 23rd for her book, Potluck and Other Stories, with participants as far away as the UK and the Channel Islands.

Potluck contains the hilarious adventures of the eccentric residents of the Golden Elders Condo plus her new novella, A Damaged Heart.

Melissa Yi

Melissa Yi launched the first book in her new Hope Sze series, The Shapes of Wrath, at the Cornwall Library in November 2022.

She successfully crowd-funded the new book as well!


Award-winning author, Mike Martin and his team brought the dream of a new national crime writers conferences to life with the Maple Leaf Mystery Conference, May 24th to 28th. Leading crime writers and guest authors were: Ian Rankin, Maureen Jennings, Vicky Delany, Rick Mofina and Iona Whishaw.

Several Mesdames moderated and/or participated on many panels: Catherine Astolfo, Jane Burfield, M. H. Callway, Melodie Campbell, Donna Carrick, Lisa de Nikolits, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy, Madona Skaff and Caro Soles.

Cathy Astolfo
Jane Burfield
Jane Burfield
M. H. Callway
Melodie Campbell
Melodie Campbell
Donna Carrick
Lisa de Nikolits
Rosemary McCracken
Rosemary McCracken
Lynne Murphy
Lynne Murphy
Madona Skaff
Caro Soles
Caro Soles
Melissa Yi

On December 3rd, Mike Martin and his team returned to put on the virtual Ottawa Maple Leaf Mini-Conference to showcase Eastern Ontario crime writers, including Brenda Chapman and Mary Jane Maffini. Madona Skaff and Melissa Yi shared their knowledge on the day’s panels.

Earlier in 2022, on March 9th, Mike and Madona Skaff held a workshop for Capital Crime Writers about the pros and cons of self-publishing, entitled Indie Publishing: A Fine Adventure or Evil Torture.


In 2020, Left Coast Crime, San Diego, was forced to close after only half a day because of COVID. Two years later, from April 7 to 10th, LCC went live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. More than 200 authors and fans celebrated its return.

M. H. Callway was honored to be on the short story panel, moderated by Lisa Q. Matthews, and to moderate the panel on noir crime fiction.


For the first time, the Toronto International Festival of Authors celebrated leading international crime writers from June 3 to 5th. Lisa de Nikolits was one of the Canadian authors invited!

Crime Writers of Canada hosted a booth with the help of M. H. Callway, Blair Keetch and Sylvia Warsh.


Toronto’s annual book festival, Word on the Street, returned live on the June 11-12th weekend, moving back to its Queen’s Park venue.

Caro Soles sponsored the booth for The Mesdames of Mayhem together with Blair Keetch and Rosemary McCracken.


The multi-genre conference, When Words Collide, went virtual for 2020, 2021 and 2022. (This year, 2023, WWC will be live!) WWC took place on Zoom from August 12 to 15th with the support and participation of many genre associations, including the Crime Writers of Canada.

Jayne Barnard
Jayne Barnard
M.H. Callway
Therese Greenwood
Therese Greenwood
Kevin Thornton
Kevin Thornton

Jayne Barnard, M. H. Callway, Therese Greenwood and Kevin Thornton participated in and/or moderated the crime writing panels.


Donna Carrick returned to host Season 5 of the podcast, Dead to Writes. In 2022, she interviewed 16 of the authors in our new anthology, In the Spirit of 13, as well as artist, Sarah Carrick, who has designed each of our five anthology covers. Listen here to the full Dead to Writes podcast series 5.

Lisa de Nikolits continued her amazing podcast series, I Read Somewhere That…

Catch up here on all 19 of Lisa’s I Read Somewhere That…podcasts.

The Crime Writers of Canada stepped up podcasting in 2022, with author interviews to promote their 40th anniversary anthology, Cool Canadian Crime, featuring Melodie Campbell, Lisa de Nikolits, Blair Keetch, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy and Sylvia Warsh.

CWC also did a series of webinars on the craft of crime writing. Donna Carrick was featured in January where she discussed the art of short story writing.



Toronto Sisters in Crime continued to meet virtually except for their annual field trip. This year was a tour of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the Toronto Reference Library – a terrific evening concluding with an in-person dinner afterwards.

Melodie Campbell was the guest presenter at SinC’s March 9th meeting where she discussed humor in crime fiction in Over My Dead Body.


Noir at the Bar Toronto returned to live events in 2022 at a new venue, The Duke of Kent pub, 2315 Yonge St. Its first Queer Noir at the Bar took place on June 8th with a reading by Caro Soles. Lynne Murphy and Lisa de Nikolits read at the September 29th meeting.

A big thank you to Rob Brunet and Hope Thompson for their support of Canadian crime writers – and the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem.


Marilyn Kay and Roz Place for keeping our newsletter running!

Marilyn Kay
Marilyn Kay
Rosalind Place
Rosalind Place
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NEWS FLASH! Sleuth of Baker Street to Retire

Bittersweet news: Marian Misters and J. D. Singh have made it official: Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore is retiring after over 40 years in business.

We’re sad because of the wonderful support Sleuth’s has given us as individual writers and as the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem. Not to mention the joy of reading and discovering new favorite authors.

As Marian and JD wind down the business, they will still take special orders and find you that book you’ve always been looking for.

The biggest of bear hugs to Marian, JD, Pixie and Prince for all the joy they have given us and crime writing community!

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New Year Kitten

We’re celebrating our 10th Anniversary all year! Watch for monthly reprints of short stories from our first four anthologies by our Mesdames and Messieurs. We also have some exciting news and reviews to share with you this month.


The Quarantine Review‘s Issue 14 includes both Mme Lisa de Nikolits’ Everything You Dream is Real and The Mesdames of Mayhem’s In The Spirit of 13 on their “Holiday Hotlist”.

Here’s a link:


Join Mme Lisa de Nikolits‘ blog tour! It’s running until January 14, 2023. For more information about the blog tour, including dates and blogs, here’s the link.


Mme Melissa Yuan-Innes is celebrating the new year with her first publication in On Spec, the Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic. Her poem, “Needles”, appears in Issue #122, Vol 32, No 4.

Current Issue #122 VOL 32 No 4 | onspecmag (

Melissa Yi
Melissa Yi

Reviewer, Jamieson Wolf, named Melissa‘s latest book, The Shapes of Wrath, one of the best books of 2022.

Rosemary McCracken

Mme Rosemary McCracken wrote a wonderful tribute to Jack Batten, crime fiction reviewer, on her blog, Moving Target. Jack wrote his Whodunit column for nearly 24 years and he was especially supportive of the Mesdames of Mayhem, reviewing all our anthologies. Here’s the link:



To celebrate our 10th anniversary, on the 15th of each month this year, we’ll be reprinting a story by a Mme or Monsieur from our first four anthologies. We’re going alphabetically and we’re delighted that Mme Cathy Astolfo will be our first author with “The Outlier” from 13 Claws. Her story won the Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence for Best Short Story – and it’s one of the scariest stories we’ve ever read.

13 Claws Anthology


Reminder: Submissions for the Derringer awards open on January 1st. To submit a story, you must be a members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society by December 31, 2022. Authors may submit up to two stories and these can be their own work or those of a friend. The friend does not need to be a member of SMFS. For full details and updates, check the website.

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Happy Winter Solstice!

Shared from Joanne Guidoccio’s blog, On the Road to Reinvention, with thanks!

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NEWS FLASH! Mme Lynne Murphy Interviewed by CWC!

Lynne Murphy
Lynne Murphy

Mme Lynne Murphy is interviewed by Erik de Souza for Crime Writers of Canada. She talks about her story in the CWC anthology, Cold Canadian Crime and her intrepid adventures in the writing crime fiction.

Here are the links:



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Happy Holidays, Dear Readers!

It’s winter solstice and the Holidays. What’s more wonderful than snuggling up with terrific new books and stories by the fabulous Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem?

Whether you love cozy crime, thrillers, whodunnits, noir, Sherlockania, romance or speculative fiction, we have something here for you. Enjoy and have the best holiday ever!


Stories by 22 Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem!


Thirteen, an anthology of Crime Stories
Our very first book!
13 o'clock anthology
Our take on Father Time!

13 Claws Anthology
Cathy A’s CWC Award Winner!
In the Key of 13 Anthology
Music and Mayhem!


Cozy comedy mystery
Critically acclaimed speculative fiction/thriller
Popular cozy stories and a new thriller novella
SF/Crime Merculian Book 6
SF/Crime Merculian Book 7
New Dr. Hope Sze series, Book 1
Fun speculative fiction!

Amazing Anthologies

Stories by Melodie Campbell, Lisa De Nikolits, Blair Keetch, Sylvia Maultash Warsh, Rosemary McCracken and Lynne Murphy
Story by Jayne Barnard
Story by M. H. Callway

Story by Jayne Barnard
Story by Jayne Barnard
Story by Melissa Yi

Mayhem in Magazines!

Story by M. H. Callway
Story by Melodie Campbell
Story by Sylvia Warsh
Story by Melissa Yi
Reprint by Melodie Campbell
Shotgun Honey, Story by Blair Keetch
Story by Melissa Yi in Candy Cane Kisses

For Fans of Sherlock Holmes

All with Stories by Kevin Thornton


Comedy mystery
Book 3 in the Series, Audible and ebook

The Maddie Hatter Steam Punk Series

Deadly Diamond (Maddie Hatter)
Gilded Gauge (Maddie Hatter)
Timely Taffeta (Maddie Hatter)

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Last month was super busy and December looks even busier. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts a cold winter ahead – perfect for curling up with your human and animal family and a great book!

Look for our Year End Book Review coming soon and enjoy the holidays and being together!


Marian Misters has been a co-owner of the Sleuth of Baker Street Mystery Bookstore for over 40 years. She has been an incredible supporter of Canadian crime writers and wonderful to the Mmes! Every one of our five anthologies has been launched at Sleuth.

Looking for a change from her career as an auditor, Marian and her partner bought the Sleuth in 1982. She was awarded the 2021 Derrick Murdoch Award for her contributions to the Canadian mystery community, has served as Jury Chair for the Awards of Excellence, reads lots and lots of mystery books, and is delighted to be an honorary Mme!

When you visit Toronto, be sure to visit Sleuth for the latest and best crime fiction books or to find that classic mystery you’ve been searching for. Be sure to say hello to Pixie and Prince, too.


Madona Skaff
Melissa Yi

The Maple Leaf Mystery Ottawa Virtual Mini-Conference takes place this Saturday, December 3rd from 9 am to 5 pm.

The conference features interviews with some of Canada’s best-known mystery writers and FOUR terrific panels of top authors, including Mmes Madona Skaff and Melissa Yi.

Melissa discusses short stories on the Get Shorty panel at 9:30 am and Madona talks about suspense at 5 pm on the Suspicious Minds panel.

Join the Crime Writers of Canada and Toronto Sisters in Crime on Monday, December 5th, 6:30 pm to celebrate the holidays at a virtual Festive Fete. (Event is for members of CWC and SinC only.)


Melissa Yi

The Surry Muse Arts Society announced the finalists for the 2022 Joy Kogawa Award for Fiction and Melissa Yi’s work, White Snow and Seven Dreams, is on the short-list, beating out more than 300 entrants!

Sylvia Warsh

Sylvia Warsh’s article about the Mesdames of Mayhem and our new anthology, In the Spirit of 13, was featured on the leading crime fiction blog, Mysteryrat’s Maze.

Thank you to Lorie Ham of Kings River Life Magazine in the U.S.A.

Read Sylvia’s article here:

Lisa De Nikolits was interviewed by leading blog, The Open Book, last month. She talks about the great influence late Inanna editor, Luciana Ricciutelli, had on her career as a novelist.

Lisa honored Luciana with a dedication in her new novel, Everything You Dream is Real.

Read Lisa’s full interview here.


Melodie Campbell
Melodie Campbell

Melodie Campbell’s new series, The Merry Widow Murders, published by Cormorant Books, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Publication date Spring, 2023!

The merry widow of an English earl finds a body in her stateroom. She must solve the murder or reveal her unusual past.

Melissa Yi

Melissa Yi’s new Dr. Hope Sze series is based on the seven deadly sins.

The first book in the series, The Shapes of Wrath, launched last month at the Cornwall Public Library. It’s now available on Amazon!

Hell hath no fury like a surgeon scorned. Dr. Hope Sze must deal with Dr. Vrac, the scourge of the operating theatre. When patients begin to die under his scalpel, Hope goes into action.

Jayne Barnard
Jayne Barnard

Jayne Barnard’s story, “Lullaby at Lamas” is part of the new anthology, Prairie Witch, published by Prairie Soul West. The book is now available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

In the past, women who did not conform to subservient social norms were often called witches and condemned to death. Now women have reclaimed the word “witch” to symbolize female empowerment.

Sylvia Warsh

Sylvia Warsh had two poems published on the blog, Writing in a Woman’s Voice: “(Chilean, Afghani, Ukrainian) Refugee” and “Krakow by Night”.

And she was invited to contribute to a new blog, Shepherd for Authors. The recently established website aims to connect readers and authors. Read Sylvia’s article, “The Best Holocaust Memoirs on What Real People Experienced” here.

Rosemary McCracken
Rosemary McCracken

Rosemary McCracken, too, was a guest blogger on Shepherd for Authors where she shared news about her writing career and Uncharted Waters, the latest book in her popular Pat Tierney series.

Shepherd also asked her to share her five favorite Canadian mysteries. Read Rosemary’s blog here.


The Zoom launch of In the Spirit of 13 featuring at least a dozen of the contributing Mesdames and Messieurs was recorded for Donna Carrick’s podcast, Dead to Writes. Watch here or on YouTube.

A HUGE thank you for managing the back room goes to techie super-hero, Ted Carrick!


The deadline for submissions to the Canadian Crime Writers Awards of Excellence is coming up fast on Thursday, December 15th. For submission rules, please consult CWC’s website here.

And you can’t win a lottery if you don’t buy a ticket, but even being longlisted for Otto Penzler’s Best Mystery Stories of the Year series is HUGE! Stories published this year must be received by December 31st. Mailing address: The Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren Street, New York NY 10007, U.S.A.

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NEWS FLASH! Maple Leaf Mini-Conference this Weekend!

The MLMC Ottawa virtual mini-conference takes place this weekend, Saturday, December 1st, starting 9 am. Register at Eventbrite here.

Join Mmes Madona Skaff and Melissa Yi for their panel discussions!

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NEWS FLASH! Authors on YouTube!

Our Zoom launch is now available on YouTube. Tune in and meet the authors!

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Greetings Readers!

November is this year’s busiest month if not one of our busiest months ever! We had a smashing success with our real-world launch of In the Spirit of 13 on Sunday, October 30th at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street.

Our Zoom launch takes place on November 13th, but lots and lots of more exciting things are happening. Read on!

Join the Mesdames of Mayhem for the cross-Canada Zoom launch of In the Spirit of 13 on Sunday, November 13th at 2 pm EST. Meet the authors and enjoy lively discussions. No masks are required but please pre-register at


The launch of In the Spirit of 13, our 5th anthology, Took place on Sunday, October 30th at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street. Mesdames and Messieurs in attendance: Jane Burfield, M. H. Callway, Donna Carrick, Lisa de Nikolits, Marilyn Kay, Blair Keetch, Cat Mills, Lynne Murphy, Ed Piwowarczyk, Caro Soles and Sylvia Warsh.

The launch – our first real-world event since 2019 – was a smashing success! Friends, fans and family crowded Sleuth of Baker Street. To keep everyone safe, we all wore masks and kept readings to 1 to 2 minutes. Longer readings are promised once COVID is well and truly a thing of the past.

Since it was Halloween – a Mesdames tradition – everyone got in the spirit with lots of fun costumes. An especially big thanks to Mme Lisa de Nikolits for creating the wonderful loot bags!

Sales of our anthology were terrific. Lisa’s new book, Everything You Dream is Real and Lynne Murphy’s collected stories, Pot Luck, sold out!

Best of all to show our heartfelt thanks to Marian Misters, owner of Sleuth, for all her wonderful support not just of us but of all Canadian crime writers, we made her an Honorary Mme of Mayhem! More about Marian, our new Mme in next month’s newsletter.


We’ve had two wonderful recognitions. First of all, Jack Batten, crime fiction reviewer at the Toronto Star, gave In the Spirit of 13 a warm review.

Jack said: “There’s more than enough to light up and surprise readers for many nights of pleasure, some of it in easygoing whimsy.” Read Jack’s full review here:

And we were stars in the Toronto Star!

Journalist Briony Smith wrote a full-page article on the Mesdames of Mayhem entitled, “The Mesdames of Mayhem Celebrate A Decade of Dark Deeds – on Paper”. She tells about how we got started, our anthologies and individual books – and most of all, why we love working and being together! 

Read Briony’s article here: The photo is by Henry VanderSpek, the official photographer for Cat Mill’s documentary, The Mesdames of Mayhem.

The Mesdames new anthology, In the Spirit of 13, is featured in the new Sleuth of Baker Street newsletter! Thank you to Marian Misters!


A great month for Mme Lisa De Nikolitis as she debuts her tenth novel, Everything You Dream is Real (Inanna Publications). It’s the follow-up to her hit speculative fiction book, The Rage Room.

Lisa was interviewed by Open Book on November 2nd. You can hear and read it here.

And Lisa was featured in BeachMetro which named her a conduit of fantastical stories! Read the article here.

Mme Mad

M. H. Callway’s story,” Last Island”, is on the featured story on the cover of Mystery Magazine this month!  She’s thrilled because this is her first story so honored. In “Last Island”, a mysterious death in an ice fishing hut leads Danny Bluestone, a young Northern Ranger, on a high-stakes race across the frozen lands. Mystery Magazine is available on Amazon.

Her comedy story, “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, is one of the 30 stories featured in the anthology, GONE, by UK publisher, Red Dog Press. The publication date is November 15th.

Jayne Barnard

Jayne Barnard‘s story, “Crows Hoard”, a climate change thriller is one of the stories in the anthology, Nothing Without Us, Too. The publication features authors who are disabled, d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing, Blind or visually impaired, neurodivergent, Spoonie, and/or who manage mental illness. 


Lisa de Nikolits joins authors from Inanna Publications to launch her new novel, Everything You Dream is Real, on Thursday, November 17th at 7 pm. The event takes place at Danu Social House, 1237 Queen St. West, Toronto.

The real world event is free, one of Inanna’s first since COVID!

Dr. Melissa Yi
Madona Skaff

Check out the Maple Leaf Mystery Conference on December 3rd, 2022. Two Mesdames are on panels.

Mme Melissa Yi is on the Short Story Panel: Get Shorty and  Mme Madona Skaff is on the Suspense Panel: Suspicious Minds.


The Mesdames and Messieurs present at our In the Spirit of 13 Book Launch on October 30 are as follows: Blair Keech, Caro Soles, Cat Mills, Donna Carrick, Ed Piwowarczyk, Jane Burfield, Lisa de Nikolits, Lynne Murphy, M. H. Callway, Marilyn Kay, and Sylvia Maultash Warsh.

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NEWS FLASH! Zoom Launch of In the Spirit of 13 on November 13th

Thirteen is the Mesdames lucky number. We invite you to the Zoom launch of our latest anthology, In the Spirit of 13, on Sunday, November 13th at 2 pm EST.

Come and meet 18 of the authors in person!

IMPORTANT: Please pre-register to attend by emailing

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NEWS FLASH! Launch of In the Spirit of 13 This Weekend!

We’re excited to be back for our first real world event since the start of COVID. Especially since our new anthology, In the Spirit of 13, celebrates the 10th anniversary of The Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem!

Do join us! The event is free BUT masks must be worn. It’s Halloween so do get creative!

And already a great review from Jack Batten in the Toronto Star. Jack says:

There’s more than enough to light up and surprise readers for many nights of pleasure, some of it in easygoing whimsy.”

Read his full review here:

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Mesdames on the Move, October 2022

Happy Thanksgiving and Halloween!

This month the Mesdames and Monsieurs have much to be thankful for, including you, dear readers. We’re celebrating our 10th anniversary with our anthology book launch at our fave bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street, and so much more!


 In the Spirit of 13, is set to release on October 30, 2022! Join us at our favourite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street in Toronto, on October 30 at 2 p.m. ET!

The Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem’s fifth anthology, In the Spirit of 13, celebrates our 10th anniversary! Ghosts and demons and booze, oh my!

For this special book, we’ve let our imaginations run wild. Does “spirit” mean a ghost – or a debunked ghost? A demon or the evil harbored in twisted hearts? Or a delusion brought on by alcohol or madness – or merely alcohol itself? Dive in and read our 23 stories to find out!

To counter the world’s dark and turbulent, times our authors have slanted their stories to the lighter side, but darkness does creep into a few of them.

We invite you to laugh, shed a tear and be thoroughly and deliciously frightened.

The ebook, In the Spirit of 13, will be available for download and purchase on Amazon, Smashwords, etc. on October 15th.


Art Taylor has a three-part series of essays featuring stories in In the Spirit of 13 on his The First Two Pages blog.

Mme Lisa’s de Nikolits’s essay about her story, “In a Land of Fear and Denial” was published on September 27th.

Mme Rosemary McCracken‘s essay about her story “The Fur Coat Conundrum” was published on October 4th.

And watch for Mme M.H. Callway‘s essay on her story “Amdur’s Ghost” on October 11th.

Lisa de Nikolits
Rosemary McCracken
Rosemary McCracken
M.H. Callway


Old woman or little girl, woman in a dirigible or woman on her death bed, woman in history or the girl next door—we know them because their experiences are ours. Well, maybe not all their experiences…

This second anthology from members of the Canada West Chapter of Sisters in Crime finds women and girls at perilous points in their lives. From real estate agents to house cleaners, school girls to exterminators, you will find a delicious array of women, some with outrage in their hearts—and some with murder—but all of them committing or solving crimes in new and imaginative ways.

The sixteen short stories in Crime Wave: Women of a Certain Age range from light-hearted to heart-breaking, and from romantic to treacherous. All of them deal with courageous women of a certain age.

The e-book can be pre-ordered now at a discounted price.

SinC West’s second anthology, Crime Wave: Women of a Certain Age, will be published on October 15th. Mme Jayne Barnard is both an editor and a contributor.

Jayne Barnard
Jayne Barnard

Mme Lisa de Nikolitis‘ new novel, Everything You Dream is Real will be published by Inanna on Monday, October 17th.

Eleven years after a world war destroyed the consumer-driven, plastic-based existence of 2055, a new order of players jostles for power. Streaky electricity, ravaging drought, a scarcity of food, and deadly Monarch butterflies make for an increasingly desperate situation.


Two of Lisa‘s novels are now audiobooks on Audible: The Rage Room and The Nearly Girl.

You can watch Lisa’s interview with the narrator/reader of The Rage Room on Innana Publications’ YouTube channel.

A Conversation with Lisa de Nikolits and Scott Pietrangelo.

Mme Melissa Yi has been very busy!

Surgery, ghosts, and murder, oh my! Dr. Hope Sze faces the sin of wrath.

Melissa’s medical thriller and debut of her Hope’s Seven Deadly Sins series, The Shapes of Wrath features Dr. Hope Sze vs. the world’s deadliest surgeon at a haunted hospital.

Check it out at Kickstarter, Sept 20-Oct 18th only!

Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine’s September/October issue has Melissa’s story My Two-Legs.

Sharp Point Press has bought the Chinese language rights to her Dr. Hope Sze crime novel Scorpion Scheme.

And, Melissa was profiled in the New York Times in August for their “6 Ways You’re Coping With a Roller-Coaster Market” finance article.


Cat Mills

Mme Cat Mills’ new documentaries, The Billboard Squad and Me, Mahmoud and the Mint Plant are blazing along the festival circuit including Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival, Lunenberg Documentary Festival and most recently, St. Johns International Women’s Film Festival.

She is pleased to announce that not only are both films programmed in the upcoming Planet in Focus Film Festival but she has been asked to host this year’s Master Class on October 21st at the Centre for Social Innovation on Spadina.

More information:

If you haven’t seen these two outstanding short docs, you can see them here or on YouTube.

Me, Mahmoud and the Mint Plant
The Billboard Squad


The Zoom launch for the Mesdames new anthology, In the Spirit of 13, will be on Sunday, November 13th at 2 pm. The event is free but you must pre-register at

Sisters in Crime Toronto are celebrating SinC’s 35th anniversary with a hybrid event on Thursday, September 20th, 7 pm. Members only and pre-registration is required. For more details, visit the website here.

Maple Leaf Mystery Virtual Mini-Conference takes place on December 3rd, 9 am. Registration is now open.

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Mesdames on the Move: September 2022

We hope you had a great summer holiday. September begins with a bang for the Mesdames: our last two author interviews leading up to our 10th Anniversary anthology, Jayne Barnard has a new short story and author readings by Lisa de Nikolits and Lynne Murphy.


In this interview, Donna Carrick talks to Melissa Yi, emergency physician, playwritght and award winning author of the Hope Sze medical thriller series. Look for Melissa’s latest critically acclaimed thriller, White Lightning.

Melissa also has a number of short stories to her credit, including “The Mob Bar Mob”, which will appear in In the Spirit of 13, coming Fall, 2022.

The final video of the In the Spirit of 13 interviews features Jane Petersen Burfield, author of numerous short stories, including “Requiem” from In the Key of 13, which was a finalist for the prestigious CWC Best Short Story Award.

Jane shares her writing journey with Donna Carrick and news about her new story, “Whispers” which will appear in In the Spirit of 13, coming Fall, 2022.

Check out the entire series of short interviews with the authors who make up our collective, the Mesdames of Mayhem, and our “Coming Soon!” anthology, In the Spirit of 13.

You can always find the YouTube episodes at Donna Carrick’s Dead to Writes site, under the Season 5 tab.


Lynne Murphy and Lisa de Nikolitis will be reading at Noir at the Bar Toronto on Thursday, September 29th at 7 p.m. Noir is back at the Duke of Kent pub, upstairs at 2315 Yonge St.


Jayne Barnard

Jayne Barnard’s story “Crow’s Hoard” will appear in the anthology Nothing Without Us Too, to be released on September 15th. and is available for pre-order in ebook, paperback, and/or audiobook formats from RenaissanceChapters-IndigoAnother Story Bookshop, and other online booksellers.

Nothing Without Us Too follows the theme of Nothing Without Us (a 2020 Prix Aurora Award finalist), featuring more stories by authors who are disabled, d/Deaf, Blind or visually impaired, neurodivergent, Spoonie, and/or who manage mental illness. The lived experiences of their protagonists are found across many demographics—such as race, culture, financial status, religion, gender, age, and/or sexual orientation. We want to present these stories because diversity is reality, and it belongs in literary and genre fiction.

And Don’t Forget

The Mesdames and Messieurs are delighted to announce our 10th Anniversary anthology, In the Spirit of 13: A spirited crime anthology, is now available for pre-order as a Kindle Edition and an e-Pub edition via Smashwords. The ebook goes live for download on Amazon on October 15th. Stay tuned for our book launch dates in the Real World and on Zoom.

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BREAKING NEWS: In the Spirit of 13 is available for pre-order!

The Mesdames and Messieurs are delighted to announce our 10th Anniversary anthology, In the Spirit of 13: A spirited crime anthology, is now available for pre-order as a Kindle Edition and an e-Pub edition via Smashwords.

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NEWS FLASH: Marilyn Kay Interview Is Live

This week Donna Carrick‘s Dead to Writes Podcast features Marilyn Kay, author of short stories, including “Rise Up”, which will appear in In the Spirit of 13, coming Fall, 2022.

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NEWS FLASH: Alex Carrick Interviews Donna Carrick

This week we feature Donna Carrick, author of “The First Excellence”, “Gold And Fishes”, “The Noon God” as well as numerous short stories, including “Beloved Ink”, which will appear in In the Spirit of 13, coming Fall, 2022. Donna is also, along with her husband, Alex, co-owner and publisher at Carrick Publishing, as well as the host of Dead to Writes, the Podcast.

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Attendance is FREE but you must register through Eventbrite. The Mesdames and Messieurs are on several panels!

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Our own Melodie Campbell has written her share of fantasy, funny crime capers and twisted stories. Today she shares a fairytale come true about her own life. Come listen to her CBC Radio 1 interview on 99.1 about her own happy ending with her new husband, Mike O’Connell. The interview with CBC’s Gil Deacon airs today, Friday, August 5, 2022, on Here and Now Toronto at 5:50 p.m.

Melodie Campbell
Melodie Campbell
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NEWS FLASH: Rosalind Place Interview Is Live!

This week we feature Rosalind Place, author of many short stories, including “A Faint Disturbance of Hope”, which will appear in In the Spirit of 13, coming Fall, 2022. In this interview, Donna Carrick explores with Rosalind how writing a novel has helped her hone her short stories into poetic gems.

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The Lazy Days of August aren’t so lazy for our Mesdames and Messieurs

Books, interviews and author panels are keeping us busy this month, not to mention the growing excitement of our 10th Anniversary anthology, In the Spirit of 13.


In the Spirit of 13 is in celebration of the Mesdames of Mayhem’s TENTH anniversary and our FIFTH anthology.  It will soon be available for pre-order on Amazon through other book outlets.


Madeleine Harris-Callway‘s story, “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, is one of the stories in the Red Dog Press anthology, Gone. It’s available for pre-order on August 1st.

M. H. Callway

M. H. Callway is also delighted to be a guest blogger on Writers Write. Her topic: “Why I Write Short Fiction”.

Here’s the link:

Mme Jayne Barnard’s story is part of Sisters in Crime West’s second anthology, Crime Wave 2:Women of a Certain Age: A Canada West Anthology. Jayne is also one of the editors.

 Women of a Certain Age is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Jayne Barnard
Jayne Barnard


Mme Donna Carrick is continuing her terrific podcast Dead to Writes with more video interviews with In The Spirit of 13 authors, throughout August and into September. Interviews go live every Wednesday. You can find them on our website and on Donna’s video podcast:

Check out more interviews below.

Aug. 3: Ft: Rosalind Place, story “A Faint Disturbance of Hope.”
Aug. 10: Ft: Donna Carrick (Interviewed by husband Alex Carrick.) Story “Beloved Ink.”
Aug. 17: Ft: Marilyn Kay, story “Rise Up.”
Aug. 24: Ft: Melissa. Yi, story “The Mob Bar Mob.”
Sept. 1: Ft: Jane Burfield, story “Whispers.”


When Words Collide 2022

Several of the Mesdames are on panels. The conference features leading genre writers, including crime writers, Susanna Kearsley and Hank Phillippi Ryan.

You must register for this online festival in advance on the When Words Collide Eventbrite page.

Here’s the panel line-up so far:

Friday, August 12th

5 pm EDT (3 pm MDT) Who Goes There?: Jayne Barnard joins CWC President, Hyacinthe Miller in challenging traditional crime writer tropes rooted in privilege

9 pm EDT (7 pm MDT) Friday Night Dead Social by Crime Writers of Canada

Saturday, August 13th

7 pm EDT (5 pm MDT) If the Uniform Fits: Real and Fictional Female Investigators: Jayne Barnard and Brenda Chapman join two women law enforcement professionals to discuss the realities of policing. Moderated by Merrilee Robson.

9 pm EDT (7 PM MDT) Noir at the Bar: Hosted by Axel Howerton (Tentative)

Sunday, August 14th

5 pm EDT (3 pm MDT) Crossing the Line: M. H. Callway and Therese Greenwood join a panel on the risks and rewards of switching or melding genres.

6 pm EDT (4 pm MDT) Coming up Short: Kevin Thornton joins a panel of leading western crime writers about how to create a complete world and narrative in a few thousand words. Moderated by M. H. Callway.

Melissa Yi

Melissa Yi was in Winnipeg on July 12th to teach Playwriting and Play Reading 101 at the Carol Shields Auditorium, Millennium Library. Her play, I am the Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World (and Other True Tales from the Emergency Room), which she performed herself, was a hit at the Winnipeg Fringe festival!

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BREAKING NEWS: Sara Carrick and M. H. Callway Talk Book Cover Design

This time Donna Carrick features cover designer Sara Carrick and author M.H. Callway (Windigo Fire) who share their insights on the creation of a great, eye-catching cover! It’s a fascinating listen about how the cover artist and author work together to come up with enticing covers such as the image for our new anthology, In the Spirit of 13.

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NEWS FLASH: Blair Keech’s Interview Is Live

This week we feature Donna Carrick talked to Blair Keetch, author of many short stories, including “To Catch a Kumiho”, which will appear in In the Spirit of 13, coming Fall, 2022.

Blair’s short story “A Contrapuntal Duet” was the 2019 Winner for emerging crime writers and was included in the most recent Mesdames of Mayhem anthology, In the Key of Thirteen, released by Carrick Publishing and he is now a proud ‘Monsieur’.

His story “Deadly Cargo” was included in the mystery anthology Heartbreaks & Half-Truths, published by Superior Shore Press.

Blair was thrilled to again be part of the Carrick Publishing family with his story “Sleep, Perchance to Die”, included in A Grave Diagnosis.

His latest short story is “Killings 4 Sale” and is part of the Asinine Assassins anthology by Smart Rhino Publishing (late 2021).

Blair Keetch Interview with Donna Carrick
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NEWSFLASH: Melodie Campbell’s Interview Is Live!

An interview with Melodie Campbell always delights. This week, Donna Carrick on the Dead to Writes podcast talks to Melodie about her short story “The Kindred Spirits Detective Agency”, which will appear in The Spirit of 13 Mesdames of Mayhem anthology this fall. Melodie also talks about her many humorous crime stories—short and novella length, some of her not-so-light-hearted short stories— and The Merry Widow Murders, the first book in her historical crime fiction series, due for release by Cormorant in early 2023.

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NEWS FLASH: Cheryl Freedman Interview Now Live

Multi-talented writer, editor, former executive director of Crime Writers of Canada, and writing conference organizer: Cheryl Freedman is all those things and more, including a lover of ferrets. In this podcast, Cheryl talks about her latest story “Possessed” for the latest anthology by the Mesdames, In the Spirit of 13, which includes a young woman with a dead computer, a dybbuk and a squeaky little ferret named Trouble. And that’s just the start of her interview.

Cheryl Freedman joins Donna Carrick’s Dead to Writes Podcast
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Happy Summer, Dear Readers!

Podcast interviews, author bios and notes—we’re busy preparing for our 5th anthology, In the Spirit of 13. And there’s more in August when the virtual writers’ festival, When Words Collide happens.

And now for the pièce de résistance:

Ta-da! Our Cover for In the Spirit of 13

In the Spirit of 13

Many thanks to Sara Carrick for creating this marvelous cover image!


Watch for more author interviews throughout July and August on Donna Carrick‘s Dead to Writes Podcast featuring stories In the Spirit of 13. In this interview, Rosemary McCracken talks about her story “The Fur Coat Conundrum” and the fascinating real-life events inspiring her to write it as well as updates about her Pat Tierney mystery series.


August means the When Words Collide Festival for Readers and Writers. Once again, the festival will be held online. And once again, Mesdames will be participating on the panels. Watch for more details soon.

The festival will run from August 12 to 14, You can register for this virtual festival on WWC 2022 website registration page.

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NEWS FLASH: Rosemary Aubert’s Interview Now Live

Another fabulous interview by Donna Carrick. This time our brilliant and inspirational grande dame, Rosemary Aubert, zooms in on her short story “The Phone” to be published in In the Spirit of 13. She and Donna also share thoughts about Rosemary’s novels, other short stories and poetry. This is the 99th episode of @DeadtoWritesPod. All episodes are now available on both YouTube and Apple Podcast.

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NEWS FLASH: Madona Skaff Interview Now Live!

Join us this week @DeadToWritesPod for Donna Carrick’s excellent interview with Madona Skaff ! Madona talks about her story “Moving On”, which will appear in In the Spirit of 13 this fall.

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NEWS FLASH: WOTS this weekend!

Meet the Mesdames of Mayhem at WORD ON THE STREET, this weekend, June 11 -12th in Writers Block, Booth #WO2.

Buy copies of our anthologies and books by authors, Lisa De Nikolits, Blair Keetch, Lynne Murphy, Rosemary McCracken, Caro Soles and Sylvia Warsh.

And in late breaking news, Lisa De Nikolits will be hosting NOT ABOUT TIME in the ACROSS THE UNIVERSE tent on Sat. June 11th at 4:30 pm.

And Donna Carrick’s interview with M. H. Callway and her story, “Amdur’s Cat” in In the Spirit of 13 is now live!

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July-August Kittens with computer and books

June is proving to be the busiest month of 2022 for the Mesdames of Mayhem with the Toronto International Festival of Authors, Word on the Street, Dead to Writes podcasts and reading events – not to mention new book publications and story sales.

And big congratulations to Cat Mills on the release of her new documentary and to Melissa Yi for winning a contest for middle-grade manuscripts held by the International Thriller Writers.


Cat Mills
Cat Mills

Cat Mills’ a new documentary for Al Jazeera launched on May 25th.

The Billboard Squad is about a local activist ‘s fight against illegal billboards in Toronto. Check out this terrific film on Youtube.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, view Me, Mahmoud and the Mint Plant as well,  now on CBC.

Dead to Writes, the Video Podcast

Donna Carrick‘s Dead to Writes podcast is now on YouTube.

Every Wednesday, Donna interviews one of the authors in the Mesdames’ upcoming anthology, In the Spirit of 13, due out this fall.

Check out her interviews with authors Lisa de Nikolitis , Lynne Murphy and Caro Soles. And in June, interviews with Rosemary McCracken, M. H. Callway, Madona Skaff and Rosemary Aubert.



This June, TIFA is focusing on crime writing. Sixty internationally known authors discuss their work and aspects of crime writing, among them the legendary Walter Mosely, Val McDermid, Mark Billingham and Denise Mina. They are joined by leading Canadian authors, Linwood Barclay, Peter Robinson, Kathy Reichs, Ian Hamilton and Shari Lapena. Tickets are available here.

The Crime Writers of Canada has a dedicated tent in the public area where readers can meet authors and buy their books. Also readings are scheduled each day! The Mesdames are well-represented both days, Saturday, June 4th and Sunday, June 5th.

Saturday, June 4th

11 am to 3 pm: Sylvia Warsh, Caro Soles

3 to 7 pm: Madeleine Harris-Callway, Blair Keetch

Saturday Readings, 6 to 7 pm: Madeleine Harris-Callway, Blair Keetch

Lisa De Nikolits

Exciting news: Lisa De Nikolits will be interviewing international crime authors, Chris Brookmyre and Antii Tuomainen on Saturday, June 4th at 4: 30 pm. (Note: This is a ticketed event.)

Chris Brookmyre is a Scottish author of crime and historical fiction, whose work has been described as Tartan Noir.

Antii Tuomainen is one of Finland’s most acclaimed crime fiction writers. His books have been translated into 25 languages.

Sunday, June 5th

11 am to 3 pm: Rosemary McCracken

 3 to 7 pm: Lisa de Nikolitis, Lynne Murphy, Rosemary McCracken

Sunday Readings, 2 to 3 pm: Lynne Murphy, Lisa de Nikolitis, Caro Soles, Rosemary McCracken

QUEER NOIR AT THE BAR: June 8th, 7 pm

In celebration of Pride, hosts Jeffrey Round and Hope Thompson present the inaugual Queer Noir at the Bar, an evening of queer crime fiction readings, on Wednesday, June 8th at 7pm.

Authors include Mme Caro Soles and a reading by actor Greg Campbell from Greg Kramer’s bestselling mystery novel, The Pursemonger of Fugu. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Register for the event here.


The Word On The Street returns to the streets of Toronto with a new (old) home. The 33rd edition of Canada’s largest open-air book and magazine festival takes place June 11-12th on Queen’s Park Crescent from Bloor to Wellesley Street.

WOTS features readings by 100+ authors and an outdoor marketplace showcasing a wide range of Canadian and Indigenous books, magazines, comics, and more for readers of all ages. And the Mesdames will be there!

Caro Soles
Caro Soles

Caro Soles is hosting The Mesdames of Mayhem booth in Writers Block, Number WO2 on northwest corner of Queen’s Park Circle.

She will be joined by Lisa De Nikolits, Blair Keetch, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy and Sylvia Warsh.


The Crime Writers of Canada 40th anniversary anthology, Cold Canadian Crime, is up on Amazon. Print copies should be available shortly.

The collection features stories by Melodie Campbell, Lisa De Nikolits, Blair Keetch, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy and Sylvia Warsh.

M. H. Callway had two story acceptances in May!

Her dark comedy thriller “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, was accepted by UK publisher, Red Dog Press for their upcoming anthology, GONE. The book will be published in November 2022.

Red Dog Press is an independent publisher, focused on great crime, mystery and thrillers from unique voices.

And Madeleine’s ice-cold thriller, “Last Island”, has just been sold to Mystery Magazine. Publication date to be announced.

The story features characters from her novel, Windigo Fire. Danny Bluestone and Corazon Amorsolo must deal with a rogue bounty hunter in the freezing cold of border town Fort Frances.

Caro Soles’ latest Merculian mystery, The River District, is now available on Amazon.

An alien evil threatens the fun-loving, dual-gendered inhabitants of Merculian. Young people are getting sick from alien party drugs, celebrated dancer Eulio is receiving menacing notes from a stalker and a body is discovered in the Pleasure Gardens.

Then on opening night, Eulio disappears. Marlo and the Regulators discover dark secrets linked to the ruthless Terran criminal and his gang who have taken possession of the River District. Can Marlo act quickly enough to save their beloved city?


Melissa Yi

Melissa Yi who recently WON the contest held by the International Thriller Writers Organization for best middle grade crime fiction manuscript featuring a BIPOC sleuth.

The prize was a $1000 scholarship toward attending ITW’s Thrillerfest in New York City, May 31st to June 4th. That’s where Melissa Yi is now, because one of the judges, legendary children’s author, R.L. Stine, asked to meet her.

And big congratulations to Mike Martin and the MLMC team for the smashing success of this year’s Canadian virtual mystery conference. If you missed one of the panels, don’t worry. As long as you registered for MLMC, the recorded sessions will be available for viewing shortly.

Fingers crossed for a Real World MLMC in 2023!

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NEWS FLASH: Meet the Authors In the Spirit of !3

Today Donna Carrick, publisher of In the Spirit of 13, the Mesdames of Mayhem’s fifth anthology, interviews contributing author, Lynne Murphy. Lynne talks about the inspiration for her two stories in the collection: “The Trespassers”, an eerie tale in which a grandmother is haunted by two small children and the light-hearted revenge story, “Gracie, The Invisible Dog”.

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NEWS FLASH! Mme Melodie Campbell and Linwood Barclay on May 19th

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NEWS FLASH! Meet the Authors in The Spirit of 13

Donna Carrick, publishing editor of The Spirit of 13, is interviewing the contributing authors. Her first interview is with Lisa De Nikolits where Lisa reveals her inspiration for her story, “A Land of Fear and Denial”.

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May is an exciting month for crime writers, but this year especially so for the Mesdames and Messieurs with new books and publications. Not to mention the thrill of the upcoming CWC Awards of Excellence and the Maple Leaf Mystery Conference, our new national crime writers conference!

Congratulations – and Fingers Crossed!

Melissa Yi
Melodie Campbell
Melodie Campbell

Crime Writers of Canada will announce the winners of the 2022 Awards of Excellence on Thursday, May 26th at 1 pm. Broadcast on YouTube.

Melissa Yi’s story, “Dead Man’s Hand”, published in EQMM in 2021, is a finalist for the CWC Award of Excellence for Best Short Story.

Melodie Campbell’s mentee, Delee Fromm, is nominated for CWC Award of Excellence for Best Unpublished Novel for her manuscript, The Strength to Rise.

Fingers crossed!

Congratulations to Cat Mills!

The Billboard Squad

Cat Mills’ latest film, The Billboard Squad, is a 25 minute short documentary for Al Jazeera Witness. It is scheduled to be released on May 23rd.

Dave Meslin is a 47-year-old Canadian activist in Toronto known for his campaigns to defend public space from commercial interests. For 15 years, he’s been lobbying the city to remove illegal billboards from neighborhoods across Toronto.

Dave has a team of volunteers, including his 11-year-old niece, who gather intel and strategize on how to bring down the billboards. They are prepared to do whatever it takes to reclaim a local green space. But as the Billboard Squad clashes with power, bureaucracy and inertia, Dave grapples with the emotional complexities of activism.

Cat’s documentary will be available for streaming on the Al Jazeera Witness website and on Youtube.

New Books and Publications!

Sylvia Warsh

Read Sylvia Warsh’s story, “The Natural Order of Things”, in this month’s issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (May/June).

In mid-May, Sylvia is a guest on EQMM’s blog where she reveals how she changed from a literary writer to a life of crime… writing.